A high-ranking official in Xinjiang has described mass internment camps for Muslim minorities as "education" and "boarding school," in which residents receive professional, legal, and linguistic education as well as "extremism education."
Beijing is increasingly exposed to international criticism for its actions in Xinjiang, a region located far northwest of China, where up to one million Muslims are held in camps. Former inmates said they were subjected to political indoctrination and ill-treatment.
In a rare, detailed interview published by the state news agency Xinhua, Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said, "Xinjiang conducts vocational education and training in accordance with the law, with the aim of protecting the environment and the soil, terrorism and security religious extremism, and to eliminate terrorism activities before they take place. "
In recent months, as control over the situation in Xinjiang has increased, Chinese officials have moved away from denying the existence of such camps to justify and redefine how they are described. Zakir's interview is one of the most detailed accounts of China's defense of the centers and what is happening in them.
Zakir said that residents of the Xinjiang Mandarin Centers are learning "to accept modern science and to improve their understanding of Chinese history and culture." The students received vocational training, including courses on clothing and footwear, electronics, hairdressing and e-commerce, he added.
According to the governor, students are subject to legal training in China's constitution, Chinese legislation and local regulations. He said the centers are for "terrorism and extremism" people who would receive "free vocational training" for "minor offenses".
The interview follows a revision of local rules last week to allow the regional government to officially allow the use of "education and training centers" to detain "extremist-influenced people". The interview, which describes daily life in the camps and the different types of vocational training, seems to be an attempt to normalize the system.
"The Communist Party is clearly on the defensive, trying to divert international criticism of its radically new policy in Xinjiang and to justify it retrospectively," said James Leopald, a scholar who focuses on Chinese ethnic politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne ,
Former detainees from Xinjiang camps told the Guardian that they had not been trained, but spent most of their time studying Mandarin, pledging allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, and memorizing patriotic songs. Ex-inmates were tortured in detail, isolated and cut off from their families. Most of the detainees are ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs, Hui and other Muslim minorities.
The governor of Xinjiang described life in the centers as being in stark contrast to reports of poor diets and constant surveillance. A former inmate told the Guardian he had tried to kill himself.
Zakir said the training institutions are "taking care of the mental health of the students" and offering counseling services. He said the cafeterias in the camps were preparing "nutritious diets" and all the dormitories had radios, televisions and air conditioning. Basketball, volleyball, table tennis and performance facilities were built, he added. Activities such as writing, singing and dancing competitions are also organized for students, he said.
"Many interns have said they were formerly affected by extremist thought and never participated in such arts and sports activities, and now they realize how colorful life can be," Zakir said.
The governor did not say how many "trainees" were in the centers or how long their courses were, but indicated that the programs were temporary. Zakir said some interns "are expected to successfully complete their courses by the end of the year".