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How many people are detained in Xinjiang?
Since reports started surfacing in 2017 about “reeducation” camps for Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang province, it has been incredibly difficult for journalists or independent researchers to access the region.
In September 2018, German academic Adrian Zenz said a cumulative 1 million people may have been detained, estimating detention rates of 10% for Muslim-majority districts based on news reports and leaked documents. That figure became widely used after the UN cited it in 2018. Since then, camp numbers have been determined using satellite imagery, such as this map from Australian think tank ASPI, or this investigation by BuzzFeed.
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A decade of crackdown in Xinjiang
The Uyghur-majority region’s conflicted place in China was shaped over centuries, but the roots of the most recent crackdown go back about a decade.
2009: Deadly riots break out between Hans and Uyghurs in Xinjiang after two Uyghur factory workers were killed in southern China. The internet is blocked in Xinjiang for 10 months.
2014: An attack by a knife-wielding group believed to be Uyghurs kills 29 people at a train station, causing national outrage and sharpening Beijing’s intentions toward Xinjiang.
2016: Chinese Communist Party official Chen Quanguo arrives in Xinjiang and begins rolling out a system of surveillance, patterned on one he implemented in Tibet.
2017: The first reports of a network of internment camps start to be published by English-language news outlets.
2018: China denies detention camps exist in Xinjiang in response to concern from UN rapporteurs. But it also rewrites an anti-extremism law to give such detention legal cover.
2020: Women who have escaped Xinjiang tell of forced sterilizations, leading historians and others to argue the abuses constitute genocide.
2021: The US categorizes repression of Uyghurs as genocide.
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Adrian Zenz: German researcher credited with exposing China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other minority groups. A senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Zenz is the source of the estimate that China has detained more than 1 million people in camps in Xinjiang. (Other estimates vary from tens of thousands to more than a million people.)
XPCC: Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) is a paramilitary organization established by the Chinese government in 1954. XPCC is vast and involved in numerous activities in Xinjiang, from construction and farming to running schools. It’s believed to be instrumental in operating the camps where Uyghurs and others are allegedly held.
Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act: Legislation proposed in the US that would effectively ban imports of all products from Xinjiang. The bill (pdf) would create a “rebuttable presumption” that any product originating in Xinjiang was made with forced labor. Companies importing products would have to prove that forced labor was not involved.
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Xinjiang by the digits
570,000: Ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities that one US-based organization has accused China of using as forced labor to pick cotton in Xinjiang
0: People China says it has pressed into forced labor
87%: Share of China’s cotton output grown in Xinjiang in 2020
22%: China’s share of global cotton production in 2020
1.5 billion: Estimated number of garments containing materials from Xinjiang that enter the US annually
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