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  • Solomon Islands Switch Diplomatic Allegiance from Taiwan

  • Children Held in Xinjiang Amid Accusations of “Cultural Genocide”

  • Sharper Eyes: Shandong to Xinjiang (Part 3)

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Solomon Islands Switch Diplomatic Allegiance from Taiwan

The Solomon Islands is the latest country to switch their diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, leaving Taiwan with only 16 countries that officially recognize it as an independent nation after El Salvador, Burkina Faso, and the Dominican Republic, among others, made a similar move in recent years. From Chris Horton at The New York Times:

Joseph Wu, the Taiwanese foreign minister, said at a news conference on Monday that Taiwan had learned that the Solomons, an archipelago east of Australia, had chosen to end 36 years of recognition of Taiwan’s government, leaving only 16 countries that maintain official relations with Taipei. These countries are the most likely to speak up for Taiwan in international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, where Taipei is not a member.

[…] In a statement, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused China of bribing Solomons politicians to abandon Taipei in the run-up to the 70th anniversary on Oct. 1 of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party.

“The government of China has once again resorted to dollar diplomacy and false promises of large amounts of foreign assistance to buy off a small number of politicians, so as to ensure that the government of Solomon Islands adopted a resolution to terminate relations with Taiwan before China’s National Day,” the statement said. “Beijing’s purpose is to diminish Taiwan’s international presence, hurt the Taiwanese people, and gradually suppress and eliminate Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

Washington broke official ties with Taipei in 1979 in order to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing as a Cold War counterweight against the Soviet Union. But Taiwan has remained an important, if unofficial, American ally in East Asia. [Source]

Taiwanese officials accused the Chinese government of pressuring the Solomon Islands as a way to exert pressure on Taiwan ahead of presidential and legislative elections next January. At Reuters, Lee Yimou reports:

Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Tsai said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure, describing the Solomon Islands’ decision as new evidence that Beijing is trying to meddle in the January elections.

“Over the past few years, China has continually used financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan’s international space,” Tsai said, calling the Chinese move “a brazen challenge and detriment to the international order.”

“I want to emphasize that Taiwan will not engage in dollar diplomacy with China in order to satisfy unreasonable demands,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement it “highly commends” the decision to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and uphold the “One China” principle, adding it was part of an “irresistible trend”. [Source]

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is campaigning for reelection, responded on Twitter:

Ahead of the decision, Taipei sent a delegation to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to discuss the matter. While Beijing is reported to have offered the Solomon Islands financial incentives to make the switch, some in the Solomons believe siding with China carries financial risks. Gerry Shih at the Washington Post further examines the campaign waged by Beijing to woo more diplomatic allegiances away from Taiwan:

The island nation’s defection whittled the number of countries that recognize Taiwan down to just 16 after Beijing flipped key allies, including the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, in recent years, over objections from Washington.

The development intensifies pressure on Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has struggled to counter a mounting Chinese economic and diplomatic blockade designed to force Taiwan, a democracy of 23 million people, to the table for unification talks.

[…] Since Tsai’s victory, China has pressured international corporations to recognize Taiwan as a part of China and successfully persuaded a half-dozen countries to swap allegiances, using generous aid packages to escalate pressure on Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai was beaten soundly in local elections last year and faces reelection in 2020.

A task force formed by the Solomon Islands’ Parliament recommended this month that the government switch ties and set up a diplomatic mission in Beijing. Taiwan shot back with a warning last week that the country would fall into “economic slavery” if it aligned with China. [Source]

In recent years, China has raised the pressure on foreign governments, celebrities, and corporations to publicly acknowledge Taiwan as part of China. It has also exerted pressure on Taiwan by limiting the ability of mainland tourists to travel to the island, barring Chinese filmmakers and actors from attending the prestigious Golden Horse Awards in Taipei, and attempting to influence the local Taiwanese media. Usually tense cross-strait relations have deteriorated further since Tsai’s 2016 election, especially as the U.S. has shown greater support for Taiwan. Some U.S. legislators expressed support for Taiwan in the wake of the Solomon Islands’ announcement, despite the fact that the U.S. itself broke off diplomatic relations with Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979:

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Children Held in Xinjiang Amid Accusations of “Cultural Genocide”

As China accuses the U.S. of spreading “lies” about mass detention in Xinjiang after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to take the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in the region to the United Nations, Human Rights Watch has called on Chinese officials to immediately release the children of those detained in internment camps:

“The Chinese government’s forced separation of children is perhaps the cruelest element of its oppression in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Children should be either immediately returned to the custody of relatives in China or allowed to join their parents outside the country.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed five families from the Xinjiang region now living outside the country who described having no contact with their children. Some know and others believe the authorities placed their children in state-run institutions without their family’s consent.

Abdurahman Tohti, a Uyghur living in Turkey, has been unable to contact his son, now 4, and daughter, 3, since authorities detained his wife in August 2016. In January, he spotted his son in a video posted online that showed him in a school answering questions in Chinese. “I miss my children, my wife,” said Tohti. “I want them back very much. I fear if I ever meet my children again in my lifetime, they wouldn’t know who I am, and they would’ve been assimilated as Chinese and think that I’m their enemy.”

The number of children in Xinjiang placed in state-run child welfare institutions and boarding schools without consent is not known. Government control and surveillance in the region, including severe punishments for those who speak out or have contacts abroad, prevent comprehensive reporting. Many Turkic Muslims living outside of China have completely lost contact with their families in Xinjiang. The website Xinjiang Victims Database collected accounts of over 5,000 people in Xinjiang, including more than 100 children, who have been imprisoned, detained in political education camps, or subjected to other restrictions on movement. […] [Source]

The  region has been the site of a mass detention program where an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs have been or are being held in a series of internment camps. While authorities claim that these camps are “vocational training” facilities, there has been evidence of forced laborpolitical indoctrination, abuse, and deaths inside the camps.

In a comprehensive summary of the current situation in Xinjiang, including historical and political context of the region and the evolving policies that led to the current crackdown, the Financial Times’ Christian Shepherd focuses in on the apparent aim of crackdown in Xinjiang–the “re-engineering” of the Uyghur identity. Shepherd’s report focuses on how Uyghur intellectuals, especially those who have worked on preserving and teaching the Uyghur language, have become primary targets in Beijing’s re-engineering campaign:

Scholars of the region argue that China’s Communist party is attempting to “re-engineer” minority society to make Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang ever more like the Han Chinese majority. Some experts have even begun to call for the campaign to be labelled “cultural genocide”, a term usually defined as the forced assimilation of an indigenous group with the aim of eliminating its cultural distinctness.

“For [the campaign] to fit the definition of [cultural] genocide, it would need to be a premeditated systematic effort orchestrated by the state,” James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, told the FT.

“I think it’s important that we start to call it what it is. Re-engineering, rewiring, remoulding all work, but the evidence suggests that cultural genocide fits.”

[…] The list that Gulruy Asqar found her brother’s name on in 2018, confirming that he’d been detained, had been put together by Abduweli Ayup, a linguist, poet and Uighur-language activist who lives in exile in France. Ayup has been updating the list of missing, detained or arrested intellectuals since 2017.

Of the more than 300 names on his list, about a third relate to the Uighur-language textbooks. Aside from Rozi, there is Satar Sawut, the former director of Xinjiang Education Supervision Bureau, and former Xinjiang University president Tashpolat Teyip, alongside dozens of other writers, editors and illustrators. […] [Source]

Last week, Radio Free Asia reported on Amnesty International’s call for the release of Tashpolat Teyip–who the organization believes may “imminently” be executed, and also reported on a Uyghur teacher of Mandarin Chinese has been reported dead while presumed to be detained in an internment camp. In an op-ed, The Washington Post relays the story of Tashpolat Teyip, arguing that official policies in effect in Xinjiang disqualify Beijing from “enjoy[ing] the world’s respect”:

Mr. Teyip is an ethnic Uighur professor of geography. From 2010 until 2017, he was president of Xinjiang University, the leading institution of higher learning in the Xinjiang region in northwest China, home to millions of Turkic Muslim ethnic Uighurs. In the past two-and-a-half years, China has been carrying out a drive to corral 1 million or more Uighurs and others into the equivalent of concentration camps in order to wipe out their traditional language, traditions and mind-set in favor of that of the majority Han Chinese. China at first denied their existence, and now describes the camps as small and benign — “retraining centers” is one favored phrase.

In 2017, Mr. Teyip vanished. According to a dispatch from Radio Free Asia, on March 31, 2017, it was announced to Communist Party officials that he was being replaced as head of the university, and that he had been detained. RFA also reported that Mr. Teyip’s name was stricken from the official list of presidents of Xinjiang University. He had published five books and numerous articles and earned a PhD at Tokyo University of Science. More recently, RFA said students and faculty had been shown a police documentary film, which reported that Mr. Teyip had been sentenced to death, with the sentence suspended for two years. The nature of the charges is not clear, but RFA said it was a lack of loyalty in supporting government policy.

[…] Chinese diplomats in the West are decrying the souring of U.S.-China relations, and we agree that the governments should cooperate when they can. But China’s Communist rulers cannot behave with this sort of barbarity and secrecy, and simultaneously expect to enjoy the world’s respect. [Source]

In a recent series of Listening Post podcasts, Al Jazeera examined how China is is attempting to spin media coverage of the situation in Xinjiang to influence global public opinion, and how Chinese propagandists are representing it domestically while attacking international reports as “fake news.” The Economic Times recently reported that China’s use of government white papers to describe the situation in Xinjiang in positive terms “has not made impact to change international opinion.”

Meanwhile, U.S. senators last week applauded the bipartisan passage of the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act,” which now awaits passage in the House of Representatives. At Bitter Winter, Marco Respinti celebrates the Senate’s passage of the bill as a potential watershed moment:

China can’t hide the crimes it commits in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (that Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan) anymore. After months of denunciations by activists, NGOs, and international organizations, a point of no return has been reached with the passing of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (S.178) by the Senate of the United States of America. The decision came on September 11, and it is a major one: it’s bipartisan, it was passed unanimously, but above all, it’s the first such legislation in the world. For the first time ever, a legislative body of a sovereign nation condemns the abuses perpetrated against Muslim Uyghurs and calls to action.

Even more. The bill is literally designed “[t]o condemn gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, and calling for an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China.”

[…] It’s definitely an unprecedented event. Very practically, the bill enacts the publication of a report by the Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the State Department, “[…] to assess national and regional security threats posed by the  crackdown  across  Xinjiang, the frequency with which Central and Southeast Asian governments are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and  asylum seekers, and the transfer or development of technology used by the Government of the People’s Republic of China that facilitates the mass internment and surveillance of Turkic Muslims,  including technology relating to predictive policing and large-scale data collection and analysis.”

[…] Now the bill turns to the House of Representatives. If both chambers of the US Congress end up passing it, it will be the beginning of the end of the suffering of innocent people unlawfully detained in Xinjiang in millions, harassed, abused, and tortured. It will be certainly a long way, but nothing can be accomplished without the first step. [Source]

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Sharper Eyes: Shandong to Xinjiang (Part 3)

This is the third part of CDT’s Sharper Eyes series. See also “Surveilling the Surveillers (Part 1)” and “Sharp Eyes Project Map (Part 2).” 

In previous posts, CDT introduced the background of the government’s “Sharp Eyes” surveillance program, a rural-focused initiative that combines cutting-edge technology with Mao-era, crowd-sourced surveillance efforts. Closer examination of some of the hundreds of Sharp Eyes projects across China reveals not only the program’s sheer physical scope, but also its wide-ranging ambitions in rolling the many aspects of public security and city management into one. The more than 20 basis documents that established Sharp Eyes do not provide a single clear, coherent central blueprint for implementation, which is instead highly contingent upon local priorities. Having explored Sharp Eyes’ overarching goals of expanding surveillance to rural areas, we will also more closely examine how this program marries cutting-edge technologies with more low-tech citizen policing that encourages residents to surveil public video feeds and report suspicious incidents using their TVs and mobile devices.

Linyi: A Key Role Model

Pingyi County in Shandong Province’s Linyi City was Sharp Eyes’ birthplace and served as a role model for projects nationwide. In 2016, Linyi hired a technical team and drafted a construction plan authored by Dahua. According to Chinese reports, this region was chosen as the role model due to a high crime rate and lack of sufficient police force; after seeing the success of video monitoring on crime rates in another village, local authorities took the initiative to begin implementing this type of monitoring. 

With this groundwork laid, the municipal committee then incorporated Sharp Eyes into Linyi’s 13th Five Year Plan. To reduce costs, the Shandong Broadcasting and Television Network was chosen to serve as the network transmission provider utilizing its excess bandwidth, while Shandong-based Seasoft was chosen to build the surveillance networking application. Ultimately, 4,611 “integrated governance (information) platforms” were built to streamline “public stability maintenance” work among different official bodies.

Linyi established technical and supervisory Sharp Eyes groups that included comprehensive efforts to improve village surveillance capabilities. 876 city and county comprehensive management committee members were paired with villages that had weaker public security foundations to provide targeted assistance on constructing video surveillance systems. Each month, these committee members ranked the work of each county and district. Those responsible for the projects that had fallen behind would have direct face-to-face interviews and discussions conducted by relevant municipal Party committee leaders. 

The municipal government prioritized video surveillance construction as one of the city’s “Top Ten People’s Livelihood Projects.” Video construction was included in financial budgets at all levels to provide major funding support. The central government provided 28 million yuan in construction funds, while the municipal and county-level comprehensive management committees provided a further 24 million yuan. Funding came not only from government sources, but also from personal donations, which raised more than 13 million yuan from activities such as a campaign called “I send peace to my hometown.” 

Xinjiang: A Lab for Surveillance

Sharp Eyes has also been deployed in the northwest region of Xinjiang, which has been the focus of a major government security clampdown that escalated after at least 200 were killed in riots in 2009. A subsequent crackdown in the name of counter-terrorism has resulted in stifling controls over the cultural and religious practices of the local Muslim Uyghur population. An estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are currently detained in internment camps that aim to “re-engineer” the Uyghur identity. After a spike in camp construction in 2017, researcher Adrian Zenz cited regional government figures showing a 92.8 percent increase in Xinjiang’s security spending from 30.05 billion yuan in 2016 to 57.95 billion yuan in 2017. This was a nearly ten-fold increase from a decade prior, and three times higher than the national per-capita average. Chinese media reports claim that in 2017, Xinjiang was the site of 30 of the 80 nationwide public security projects each worth over 100 million yuan. Nine of the 80 were Sharp Eyes projects. The spending in Xinjiang for these 30 combined initiatives reached 14.36 billion, accounting for more than 55% of total spending nationwide. 

Karamay, a prefecture-level city in northern Xinjiang, was designated as a national demonstration city for Sharp Eyes in 2016. By the following July, it had completed coverage and networking applications across the city and surrounding districts. Situated close to the Kazakh border, Karamay was an early adopter of policies cracking down on Muslim practices, and is now a primary location for internment camps.

By the end of 2017, Karamay completed coverage of key industries, work units, traffic intersections, heavily frequented public areas, and all communities, hospitals, and schools. This included construction of over 800 video surveillance points across scenic spots throughout the city, as well as over 100 monitoring centers that were integrated into public security video surveillance feeds of over 12,000 byways to achieve decentralized monitoring and 24-hour coverage. Lastly, there were three sets of long-distance urban camera systems, which allow for even more comprehensive coverage to address traffic safety, environmental protection, anti-terrorism, and “illegal public gatherings.” 

Other completed Sharp Eyes projects are in Kashgar (one of the most heavily policed cities in Xinjiang), the Tianshan district of Urumqi, a public-private partnership (PPP) in Hotan Prefecture, Toli County in Tacheng Prefecture, and Yining County in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. There is also an ongoing procurement process led by the ninth division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an economic and paramilitary organization that has administrative authority over much of the region.

Two of the major beneficiaries of the security spending spree in Xinjiang are Dahua and Hikvision–both major companies producing surveillance products for Sharp Eyes projects–which have won over one billion USD worth of security projects in the region since 2016. They are the world’s two largest security camera manufacturers, and are both subject to U.S. federal use bans

Hikvision’s state-owned parent company China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), which founded Hikvision under its No. 52 Research Institute, has a broader presence in over 110 countries and regions worldwide. In Xinjiang, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CETC created a predictive policing system called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). The system, unrelated to Sharp Eyes, disproportionately targets Uyghurs’ way of life, and was recently reverse-engineered by Human Rights Watch.

So far, one clearly documented instance of CETC participation in Sharp Eyes is through the Anhui Province-based Sun Create Electronics Co, a subsidiary of CETC’s No. 38 Research Institute. It won a 6.37 billion yuan tender last year for a Sharp Eyes project in Hefei, Anhui’s provincial capital, and another this year in Anhui’s Huangshan City.

In correspondence with CDT, Maya Wang, who authored HRW’s recent report on IJOP, emphasized the government’s apparent wider-reaching surveillance goals, to which Sharp Eyes contributes: “This ambition for total surveillance and social control is not limited to Xinjiang—although that is a region where surveillance is most intrusive and visible. This ambition is a national one.” 

Managing “Special Populations” and Urban Metropolises

The increased desire to address “special populations” is also highlighted as one of Sharp Eyes’ goals. Several projects, including in Linyi in Shandong Province and Yuzhong County in Qinghai Province’s Xining City, mention the term “special populations service management” [特殊人群服务管理]. A self-media post on Sohu explains that these groups include the mentally ill, drug addicts, and those undergoing “community correction” practices such as being on parole or suspended sentences. The goal is to monitor the exact number of such individuals, and to input their information into the grid management system so that their whereabouts are clear and authorities do not “lose the ability to manage” them. Chinese police are known to maintain databases including personal information about individuals of interest, including tags for various personal characteristics or social groups they may belong to.

Sharp Eyes is also present in major metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Guangzhou. Guangzhou began constructing a high-definition video surveillance network in 2005. It has become one of the most densely covered cities in the country with more than 574,000 cameras and full coverage of major roads and other public spaces. Guangzhou was China’s only megacity (over 10 million inhabitants) chosen as a national Sharp Eyes demonstration city by the Central Comprehensive Management Committee, the Ministry of Public Security, and the National Development and Reform Commission in September 2016.

A year later, the Longgan District of neighboring Shenzhen completed the third phase of its Sharp Eyes construction tasks, achieving complete coverage of key districts and intersections. This included an interlinked public security video network for government departments, video coverage of 11 major roadways, and 19,400 high-definition cameras. In May 2018, contractor China Eracom won a bid for a Sharp Eyes project worth 275 million yuan in Shenzhen’s Futian District. The project’s eight product requirements demonstrate an emphasis on both facial recognition and high-altitude cameras, calling for 2000 face recognition cameras and 100 sets of high-altitude surveillance cameras.


China’s Sharp Eyes program is an attempt to combine advanced surveillance technologies with tried-and-tested methods of crowd-sourced monitoring harkening back to the Mao era, creating a nationwide web of control. This ambitious goal is easily summed-up by the Cultural Revolution slogan from which this program draws its name–”the people have sharp eyes.” Presented in positive terms by authorities–and readily echoed by official media quotations from rural residents–as a means to enhance safety and eradicate crime, the program could potentially be used to infringe on individual privacy and to persecute dissent in China. As the multitude of Sharp Eyes projects continue being developed across China towards the official goals of “full coverage, network sharing, real-time availability, and full control” in all rural regions of China by 2020, CDT editors will keep a close eye on the topic. Stay tuned to our Sharp Eyes Interactive Project Map, and to the Sharper Eyes series page, where we will continue to track Beijing’s massively ambitious and equally troubling march to become a total surveillance state.  

This post was co-written by Dahlia Peterson and Josh Rudolph, with research assistance from Cindy. Dahlia Peterson is a Research Analyst at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University.

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