Xi Jinping, the leader of China’s Communist Party, said policies in the country’s Xinjiang region were “completely correct” despite growing international backlash over the government’s alleged human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority in the province.
"It is necessary to educate residents of Xinjiang on their understanding of the Chinese nation and to guide “all ethnic groups on establishing a correct perspective on the country, history and nationality,” Mr Xi said, according to remarks reported in Chinese state media.
“We must also continue the direction of Sinicising Islam to achieve the healthy development of religion,” he said at a two-day Communist Party conference on Xinjiang this weekend.
These are Mr Xi’s most public comments to date in support of China’s policies to bring Xinjiang’s primarily Muslim ethnic minority population – mostly Uighurs but also Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and Hui – under control.
The Chinese government has long struggled to quiet the tensions that have stewed in the region for decades, at times leading to deadly attacks authorities attributed to Uighur separatists.
But Beijing’s mass “re-education” campaign faces increasing global criticism over alleged human rights abuses. The United Nations estimates that one million people in Xinjiang have been thrown into mass internment camps.
Former detainees have told the Telegraph of horrific torture and treatment inside the camps, including being beaten, shackled and electrocuted with cattle prods. Some were thrown in solitary confinement while others suffered lasting physical injuries.
They also recounted political indoctrination – being forced to pledge allegiance to the Communist Party and to study its doctrines.
Across Xinjiang, Chinese authorities have rolled out digital surveillance and targeted the region’s culture, banning beards and headscarves, pressured not to fast during Islamic holidays such as Ramadan, and tearing down mosques and graveyards, a valued part of Uighur tradition.
Recent research based largely on satellite imagery by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, found that Chinese authorities had razed or damaged about two-thirds of the mosques in Xinjiang while also continuing to expand mass detention camps.
But even as harrowing details continue to emerge, Chinese government officials have continued to offer full-throated defences of its activities in Xinjiang.
Mr Xi’s remarks this weekend also indicated that China’s policies to assimilate ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang weren’t ending anytime soon, going so far as to claim that residents’ “happiness” levels were on the rise.
“On the whole, Xinjiang has presented a favourable situation of social stability and people living and working in harmony,” he said. “The facts provide ample proof that our country’s ethnic policy is successful.”