Nazi Germany had them to exterminate the Jews. The Soviet used them to persecute millions ex nihilo.
By 2020, China under Xi Jinping has built a vast network of similarly repressive but hi-tech facilities modelled after Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps and Joseph Stalin’s notorious gulags.
India Today’s special series offers a rare insight into the Chinese internment centres as seen in satellite images — a testament to Beijing’s brutal oppression of the country’s Muslim minorities.
The Chinese Gulags
China calls them re-education camps that took shape after Xi Jinping took over as general secretary of the Communist Party (CCP), and also became chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012.
According to the US State Department, ethnic Uyghur and other Muslim minority groups have been detained in what is now a sprawling web of internment camps in China’s far-west region.
The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has called Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs the “stain of the century”.
These centres flourished after President Xi brought Chen Quanguo, a zealous politician, to control this region which the Uyghurs called East Turkestan and China renamed Xinjiang.
In August 2016, Chen assumed the charge of party secretary in this part and adopted draconian methods of suppressing ethnic minorities.
The methods included confinements, forced birth controls, physical and mental torture and worse.
Analysis of Gulag Imagery
An analysis of more than 50 satellite images vividly displays the inhuman ways in which people are stuffed into the so-called re-education facilities doubling up as labour camps.
The Chinese gulags are gated with massive tall walls, with external sentry posts at the corners and within the visual range, the imagery reveals.
The buildings meant for inmates are generally four- or five-storeyed, with small rooms on both sides of a corridor separating them.
They are gated further with up to 15-foot-tall wire grills, most of them double layered.
Effectively, there are at least three fences for any building from any side with high-tech surveillance systems all around.
Their wire-grill fences have been observed to be removed in 2018 and 2019, possibly after international human rights organizations raised their voice against China’s oppressive measures.
Single-storeyed barracks with red roofs are generally used as forced labour camps for manufacturing small electronic components for governmental entities to speed up production.
Built under PLA Supervision
The presence of People’s Liberation Army vehicles around such facilities during the construction phase suggests the projects were carried out under the direct supervision of the Chinese military.
The construction type, the analysis shows, is modular where steel braces are erected first. Modular blocks are then placed to cut short the construction time from almost a year to within two months.
The location coordinates show that the Chinese gulags have been built mostly outside of towns and cities, which are not easily accessible to the general public.
Splitting Muslim Families Apart
Chen Quanguo and the Chinese Communist Party seem to have targeted the Uyghurs’ family units — by splitting the members apart.
Various reports suggest children and their parents are picked up separately and kept in different detention centres from where they are transferred to various gulags away from their kith and kin.
They are then forced to sign on false confessions about involvement in terror activities, the reports suggest.
The gulags run political indoctrination of all inmates on a daily basis under the directions of the CCP.
The classes are run by political commissars at every level, who all belong to the Han majority.
Those who accept the political indoctrination of the CCP are moved to labour camps involved in the production of small items. Those who don’t are transferred to prisons and tortured until they accept the party’s will.
CCP’s Iron-Fisted Record
The CCP has always ruled with an iron fist.
During China’s so-called War of Liberation, shortly after World War 2, Mao Zedong’s army went on a rampage to end the Kuomintang (KMT)’s national forces. On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
After annihilating the KMT forces, they went ahead to run over the unarmed Tibet. While continuing to hold talks with India, they went after poorly-armed East Turkestan through Eastern Ladakh known as Aksai Chin.
Thus, by the mid-1950s, all the North-Western parts of China were occupied as seen on Chinese map released by the CCP in January 2015.
The Tibetans and Turkic people became religious minorities in a Han society which follows Taoism as a way of life.
Taoism being younger than Buddhism could neither impress the people of Tibet nor the Turk, Kyrgyz and Kazakh Muslims.
The Chinese could not control the ethnic Muslims in East Turkestan by changing its name to Xinjiang.
The ethnic minorities understood that the ramping up of the road and railways infrastructure was meant only to take out mineral wealth from their country.
The Chinese state labelled internal dissent as terrorism and anti-nationalism and started suppressing it with repressive means, which included extra-judicial killings and the Stanilist camps for the Uyghurs.
(Col Vinayak Bhat (Retired) is a consultant for India Today. A satellite imagery analyst, he served in the Indian Army for over 33 years)