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  • TikTok CEO to Visit Washington Amid Privacy Lawsuits, Censorship Fears

  • Chinese Diplomats Take Their “Fighting Spirit” to Twitter, with Mixed Results

  • U.S. House Approves Uyghur Act, Condemning China’s Crackdown in Xinjiang

 


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TikTok CEO to Visit Washington Amid Privacy Lawsuits, Censorship Fears

Short video platform TikTok’s enormous popularity among young Westerners, together with its ownership by Beijing-based AI entertainment firm Bytedance, has brought steadily mounting scrutiny in recent months. Critics suggest that the parent company’s susceptibility to Chinese government pressure could bleed over to TikTok, with censorship flowing outward and sensitive user data flowing back. With U.S. legislators circling and a national security review on the way, the company has been stepping up its lobbying and PR efforts in response. The Washington Post’s Tony Romm and Drew Harwell report that TikTok CEO Alex Zhu will visit Washington DC next week:

The planned trip — confirmed by multiple people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it on the record — reflects TikTok’s race to maintain the app’s explosion in popularity at a time when U.S-China relations are frayed and U.S. officials are wary about the inroads Chinese companies are making into the technologies where the United States has long been the unchallenged leader.

The trip could bring Zhu, who is based in Shanghai, face-to-face with some of the app’s harshest critics. He has sought a meeting with Republican Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), each of whom have questioned the app’s independence from Beijing.

[…] “It’s difficult to see a way forward for TikTok without a complete separation from its Beijing-based owner,” Cotton said in a statement to The Washington Post.

[…] The app’s leaders stoked some lawmakers’ ire last month by skipping a congressional hearing chaired by Hawley probing its ties to China. And its parent company faces an investigation by an arm of the federal government that reviews foreign business deals for national-security concerns. [Source]

In a recent profile at The New York Times, Zhu defended the company’s independence on both censorship and privacy, claiming that "if China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, personally asked Mr. Zhu to take down a video or hand over user data[…,] ‘I would turn him down.’"

This week brought news of two privacy-focused U.S. lawsuits against the company. In one, filed last week in the Northern District of California, TikTok is accused of having "vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data." From Katie Paul at Reuters:

The documents identify the plaintiff as Misty Hong, a college student and resident of Palo Alto, California, who downloaded the TikTok app in March or April 2019 but never created an account.

Months later, she alleges, she discovered that TikTok had created an account for her without her knowledge and produced a dossier of private information about her, including biometric information gleaned from videos she created but never posted.

According to the filing, TikTok transferred user data to two servers in China – bugly.qq.com and umeng.com – as recently as April 2019, including information about the user’s device and any websites the user had visited.

[…] The lawsuit also claims that source code from Chinese tech giant Baidu is embedded within the TikTok app, as is code from Igexin, a Chinese advertising service, which security researchers discovered in 2017 was enabling developers to install spyware on a user’s phone. [Source]

The other lawsuit, which was settled on undisclosed terms the day after its filing in Illinois on Tuesday, alleged that "because the App had virtually all privacy features disabled by default, there were serious ramifications, including reports of adults trying to contact minor children via the App." The claims are similar to those over which TikTok paid $5.7 million to the FTC earlier this year. The Verge’s Makena Kelly reported on the rapid settlement on Thursday:

“TikTok is firmly committed to safeguarding the data of its users, especially our younger users,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Verge. “Although we disagree with much of what is alleged in the complaint, we have been working with the parties involved and are pleased to have come to a resolution of the issues.”

TikTok also declined to give details of the settlement.

The plaintiff’s complaint alleges that the Musical.ly app (now known as TikTok) failed to provide the proper safeguards to prevent children from using the app. If a minor under the age of 13 created an account, the app requested that they fill in personally identifying information like their name, phone number, email address, photo, and bio. That information would be publicly available for other users to see. The complaint also alleges that the app collected the location data of its users, including minors, for close to a year between December 2015 and October 2016.

This alleged collection would be in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The law forbids social media companies like Facebook and TikTok from collecting the data of children under 13 years of age without the express consent of their parents or guardians. [Source]

Another spotlight on TikTok’s privacy practices came from Matthias Eberl at Süddeutsche Zeitung, whose technical analysis of the service’s app and website revealed "multiple breaches of law, trust, transparency and data protection," including undisclosed data transfers and a "highly controversial method of device fingerprinting."

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On the censorship front, a series of reports have used insider accounts and leaked guidelines to uncover questionable content moderation policies, including some that may have been used to disguise compliance with Chinese political censorship imperatives. The company has repeatedly described these policies as crude temporary measures that have since been refined and replaced, though in some cases the original practices continued until at least September.

Late last month, these concerns reached their widest audience yet after TikTok suspended the account of a 17-year-old American, Feroza Aziz. Aziz had posted a video in which eyelash curling tips abruptly gave way to a call for attention to mass detentions in Xinjiang. The video itself was also temporarily removed.

Aziz’s description of the situation in Xinjiang as “another Holocaust” exaggerates the nevertheless bleak reality. Weighing the current crisis against the 1948 U.N. Convention on genocide at The Financial Times on Wednesday, Uyghur RFA journalist Gulchera Hoja wrote that "we do not have evidence of mass killing, [although] acts such as the forced transfer of children and forced sterilisation are already being perpetrated."

In the latest of several corporate blog posts defending the company, TikTok’s Head of Safety Eric Han sought to "clarify the timeline of events, apologize for an error, and explain more about our moderation philosophy and the next steps our team will be taking in our continued commitment to our community."

November 14, 2019 @ 2:34pm ET – On a previous account (@getmefamousplzsir), a TikTok user posted a video that included the image of Osama bin Laden, resulting in an account ban in line with TikTok’s policies against content that includes imagery related to terrorist figures. No China-related content was moderated on this account.

While we recognize that this video may have been intended as satire, our policies on this front are currently strict. Any such content, when identified, is deemed a violation of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, resulting in a permanent ban of the account and associated devices.

[…] November 25, 2019 @ 3:32am ET – As part of a scheduled platform-wide enforcement, the TikTok moderation team banned 2,406 devices associated with accounts that had been banned for one of three types of violations: (1) Terrorism or terrorist imagery, (2) Child exploitation, (3) Spam or similar malicious content. Because the user’s banned account (@getmefamousplzsir) was associated with the same device as her second account (@getmefamouspartthree), this had the effect of locking her out of being able to access her second, active account from that device. However, the account itself remained active and accessible, with its videos continuing to receive views.

November 27, 2019 @ 7:06am ET – Due to a human moderation error, the viral video from November 23 was removed. It’s important to clarify that nothing in our Community Guidelines precludes content such as this video, and it should not have been removed.

November 27, 2019 @ 7:56am ET – The video went live again on the platform after a senior member of our moderation team identified the error and reinstated it immediately.

In total, the video was offline for 50 minutes. [Source]

The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell and Tony Romm reported on Aziz’s explanation for the bin Laden video—"I’ve been told to go marry a terrorist, go marry bin Laden, so I thought: ‘Let me make a joke about this’"—and her belief that "TikTok is trying to cover up this whole mess. I won’t let them get away with this." An editorial from the newspaper on Monday cited the case as a warning:

Ms. Aziz, unsurprisingly, is skeptical. So should everyone be, when a leaked excerpt of the platform’s terms revealed that its reviewers are instructed to reduce the visibility of political and protest content — such as depictions of public assemblies that “include violence.” The document represents an easing of previous standards that had also affected even more innocuous material, such as “mocking” and “criticizing” elected officials, from “calling for impeachment” to “lip-syncing.” But the changes still give the lie to TikTok’s insistence that “political sensitivities” do not factor into its decisions.

There’s additional reason to suspect China’s government has an interest in exerting control over what people talk about on its prized export platforms: The Verge reports that Chinese Americans have been barred from praising pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong on the messaging service WeChat. Tencent, which owns WeChat, suggested that some of these users might have been accessing the national instead of international version of the app — which would subject them to Chinese law. But how that could have occurred without their knowledge remains a mystery.

U.S. technology companies are used to setting the rules of the road for the world, and that has meant a radical openness, with all its ups and, more recently, its downs, as well. China has never wanted to let that openness in, but it has always been eager to spread its closed system out. Countries that still want their own citizens to live freely should say no. [Source]

At The Atlantic, Scott Nover surveyed the Post’s own "self-aware, slapstick, and slightly cringey" use of TikTok, where its account bio explains that “newspapers are like ipads but on paper.”

Elsewhere, a series of articles by Chris Köver and Markus Reuter at Netzpolitik.org detailed three aspects of the company’s content management regime: its efforts to protect disabled and other users from bullying by limiting their videos’ reach; its various methods for boosting or suppressing content, and changes made to handling of political material after earlier reporting from The Guardian; and its treatment of content attacking TikTok or mentioning its competitors.

TikTok, the fast-growing social network from China, has used unusual measures to protect supposedly vulnerable users. The platform instructed its moderators to mark videos of people with disabilities and limit their reach. Queer and fat people also ended up on a list of „special users“ whose videos were regarded as a bullying risk by default and capped in their reach – regardless of the content.

[…] One source familiar with moderation reported that staff repeatedly pointed out the problems of this policy and asked for a more sensitive and meaningful policy.

However, their comments were dismissed by the Chinese decision-makers. The rules were mainly handed down from Beijing. This is largely in line with what the Washington Post learned from former TikTok employees in the USA. [Source]

According to the source, moderation [of German-language videos] takes place in three review stages. The first review already takes place in Barcelona after 50 to 150 video views. Berlin is responsible for the second review from 8,000 to 15,000 views and the third review from about 20,000 views. At night, German-speaking Chinese moderate content from Beijing. TikTok confirmed this to netzpolitik.org.

[…] According to the source, TikTok changed its moderation rules after the Guardian’s September reporting and subsequent criticism. The source says that the company explicitly referred to the bad press in front of employees. The extent of the changes has been unique to date, but smaller modifications are more frequent.

[…] Until this major adjustment, moderation rules had almost completely ruled out criticism of politics and political systems. Those who criticised constitutional monarchy, parliamentary systems, separation of powers or socialist systems were throttled. Only with the major changes was this „ban on politics“ removed from the moderation rules. [Source]

One of the rules netzpolitik.org was able to see was „content depicting an attack on TikTok“. It said that „constructive criticism“ and „feedback“ were allowed. For content „attacking, condemning or criticizing TikTok“, the moderators were advised to mark the videos as „Not Recommend“. A classification of „Not Recommend“ greatly limits the possible viewership of a video. It then no longer appears in the algorithmically selected „For You“ feed, which the user sees when opening the app.

[…] When asked when TikTok ceased using this rule, the TikTok press office provided a vague answer. In order to counteract misinformation, a restrictive, temporary approach was adopted „at the beginning“. At no time did this approach represent a long-term solution and the company no longer pursued it.

[…] Any content with a unique identifier of a direct competitor was to be classified as „Not Recommend“. Identifiers could include: a logo, the name as text, a screenshot or a user interface. The rule was also applied to indirect competitors if their logo or name could be seen in more than half of the video – even if the logo was intentionally obscured by the TikTok user. Videos explaining the functionalities of direct competitors were similarly demoted. [Source]

Further scrutiny of TikTok’s content handling practices has come from data analysis Twitter account @AirMovingDevice, which has returned to the platform after being pressured into silence in March.

Another thread from @AirMovingDevice explained how TikTok "hides certain videos under a hashtag. They’re not deleted: still visible on the uploader’s profile page & the uploader can still see it under the hashtag, giving the illusion that nothing is hidden. But the public doesn’t see the video when searching for a hashtag." @AirMovingDevice cautioned that there is "NO CLEAR INDICATION that videos with certain themes are more frequently hidden: HK/XJ/Trump-related hashtags are all over the place. Plus, videos under innocuous hashtags are often hidden as well, e.g. #carrotcake and #newyorkgiants. […] It is unclear why certain videos are hidden. And I am NOT claiming that TikTok is intentionally censoring content: it could be an innocent response to spam etc."

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Beyond these privacy and censorship concerns, TikTok’s Chinese counterpart Douyin has been accused of providing propaganda cover for the ongoing mass detention campaign in Xinjiang. Its involvement in the region was reported in an expansion of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Mapping China’s Tech Giants project, which now tracks 23 companies and other organizations’ global footprint through more than 26,000 data points. Other new additions, "mainly in the artificial intelligence (AI) and surveillance tech sectors," are iFlytek, Megvii, SenseTime, YITU, CloudWalk, DJI, Meiya Pico, Dahua, Uniview and BeiDou. The update includes case studies "on TikTok as a vector for censorship and surveillance, BeiDou’s satellite and space race and CloudWalk’s various AI, biometric data and facial recognition partnerships with the Zimbabwean Government."

[… B]eyond the expected regulatory missteps of a fast-growing social media platform, ByteDance is uniquely susceptible to other problems that come with its closeness to the censorship and surveillance apparatus of the CCP-led state. Beijing has demonstrated a propensity for controlling and shaping overseas Chinese-language media. The meteoric growth of TikTok now puts the CCP in a position where it can attempt to do the same on a largely non-Chinese speaking platform—with the help of an advanced AI-powered algorithm.

[… W]e have found that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance—which is not on the US entity list for human rights violations in Xinjiang—collaborates with public security bureaus across China, including in Xinjiang where it plays an active role in disseminating the party-state’s propaganda on Xinjiang.

[…] Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult for international authorities to sanction the circa 1,000 homegrown local Xinjiang security companies. However, as companies such as Huawei seek to expand overseas, foreign governments can play a more active role in rejecting those that participate in the Chinese Government’s repressive Xinjiang policies. [Source]

The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield also reported on ASPI’s findings:

Xinjiang Internet Police began working with Douyin, the local version of TikTok, last year and built a “new public security and Internet social governance model” in 2018. Then in April, the Ministry of Public Security’s Press and Publicity Bureau signed a strategic cooperation agreement with ByteDance to promote the “influence and credibility” of police departments nationwide, the ASPI experts said.

The agreement also reportedly says ByteDance will increase its offline cooperation with the police department, although the details of this cooperation are not clear.

[…] ByteDance has also been working with Xinjiang authorities under a program called “Xinjiang Aid,” whereby Chinese companies open subsidiaries or factories in Xinjiang and employ locals who have been detained in the camps. Its operations are centered on Hotan, an area of Xinjiang considered backward by the Communist Party and where the repression has been among the most severe.

ByteDance has been guiding and helping Xinjiang authorities and media outlets to use its news aggregation app and Douyin to “propagate and showcase Hotan’s new image,” according to the ASPI report. [Source]

Last month, Reuters reported on a memo by Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming which, without explicitly referring to obstacles in the U.S., urged staff to diversify TikTok’s markets, strengthen its capacities in "handling global public affairs," and improve data protection. The report noted that "India is the main driver for TikTok’s new downloads this year." At The Atlantic, Snigdha Poonam and Samarth Bansal reported on the platform’s explosive popularity in India, whose "results are both magical and nightmarish."


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Chinese Diplomats Take Their “Fighting Spirit” to Twitter, with Mixed Results

As a new front in Xi Jinping’s propaganda war — an ongoing campaign to “tell China’s story to the world”diplomats working globally have been urged to take a more aggressive tone in defending their government’s interests in public forums. The immediate result has been an upsurge in Twitter accounts speaking for government officials and state media, while Twitter and other global social media platforms remain censored inside China. John Ruwitch of Reuters reports:

The government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, prodded officials at a foreign ministry gathering last month to display stronger “fighting spirit” in the face of international challenges, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

While Wang did not give explicit direction at the event, the instructions come after several senior Chinese diplomats set up Twitter accounts, some of which have been used to attack Beijing’s critics. This week, the foreign ministry also launched a Twitter account.

More than 1,000 current and former officials attended the event in Beijing, singing patriotic songs to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the foreign ministry.

[…] Wang’s comments reflect President Xi Jinping’s revamp of foreign and military policy, in which he has abandoned the approach laid out by reform architect Deng Xiaoping, who said China should hide its strength and bide its time while it developed. [Source]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has notably launched a Twitter account, which has been used to abrasively attack U.S. criticism of policies in Xinjiang and elsewhere:

As China takes the global lead in number of overseas diplomatic postings, several ambassadors have also been joined social media. Others who have taken to Twitter to lambast critics of the Chinese government include China Daily’s Chen Weihua:

As MERICS’ Mareike Ohlberg writes, this strategy is part of a broader propaganda campaign to reach outside the barriers of Chinese censorship to influence perceptions of China globally:

Much of the content consists of regular news stories that are similar to those reported by western news outlets, although it differs from these in that there is more “positive news” and “success stories” about China, such as development achievements in minority areas like Tibet and Xinjiang. On Twitter, the #Tibet and #Xinjiang hashtags are filled with images of animals and landscapes by party-state media. Attractive visuals and curious content or human-interest stories are used by most CCP media to draw in users, featuring cuddly pandas, other baby animals, impressive landscapes, and China’s technological achievements.

Mixed into this is content that is overtly political, such as posts promoting the Chinese political system or justifying directly China’s repressive policies in its minority areas. For instance, Chinese party-state media have highlighted supposed praise by foreign diplomats for the CCP’s policies in Xinjiang, where an estimated one million people have been interned in camps and many more are affected by the Party’s repressive policies. Some of the tweets posted by Chinese party-state media have been highly misleading, such as presenting protests in Hong Kong against the government as pro-government protests. In other cases, Xinhua used its Facebook account to dehumanize Hong Kong protesters by depicting them as cockroaches.

Some editors of party-state media are also quite active on platforms such as Twitter, like Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the English-language newspaper Global Times, who has over 100,000 followers, and the China Daily’s Europe bureau chief Chen Weihua. They frequently weigh in on hot topics like the Hong Kong protests, Huawei, the West’s supposed lack of freedom of speech, and “Western hypocrisy” towards China.

[…] While China experts may find much of this propaganda crude, it is clear that these people are not the target audience. As Liz Carter, a former translator at China Digital Times, said recently: “The point is not to convince everyone, but to convince enough people to win a public opinion war and drown out voices of reason. This is an often-overlooked aspect of CCP strategy, because those who know enough to care about it are the least likely to be affected by it, and the most likely to underestimate its harmful impact.” [Source]

One of the recent major targets for such global propaganda campaigns is the Hong Kong protest movement. In August, Twitter announced the discovery of almost 1000 accounts which were, “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.” These efforts included ads which called the Hong Kong protesters cockroaches. The upcoming elections in Taiwan have also been a focus of official mainland propaganda and disinformation campaigns, which internet users in Taiwan are beginning to fight back against.

Meanwhile, mainland internet users — most of whom are based outside China — who sympathize with Hong Kong protesters are also taking to social media outside the Great Firewall to counter the official line on the unrest there. A platform launched by Chinese Twitter user @midwaydude offers a channel to anonymously express their support for the Hong Kong protest movement.


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U.S. House Approves Uyghur Act, Condemning China’s Crackdown in Xinjiang

Following the U.S. Senate’s September passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Act, which some commentators saw as a potential watershed moment in the global stand against the ongoing crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved its own bill aimed at the human rights crisis in Xinjiang. Citing information from news agencies, The Guardian reports:

The Uighur Act of 2019 is a stronger version of a bill that angered Beijing when it passed the Senate in September. It calls on the president, Donald Trump, to impose sanctions for the first time on a member of China’s powerful politburo even as he seeks a trade deal with Beijing.

The Uighur bill, which passed by 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House, requires the president to condemn abuses against Muslims and call for the closure of mass detention camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

It calls for sanctions against senior Chinese officials who it says are responsible and specifically names the Xinjiang Communist party secretary, Chen Quanguo, who as a politburo member is in the upper echelons of China’s leadership.

The revised bill still has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate before being sent to Trump. The White House has yet to say whether Trump would sign or veto the bill, which contains a provision allowing the president to waive sanctions if he determines that to be in the national interest. [Source]

Bloomberg’s Daniel Flatley compares the House bill to the earlier Senate version, outlines its provisions, and notes that U.S. lawmakers are working together to ensure a quick passage to law:

The House version of the Uighur human rights measure amends a Senate bill passed without objection in September. It adds provisions that require the president to sanction Chinese government officials responsible for the repression of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group, and places restrictions on the export of devices that could be used to spy on or restrict the communications or movement of members of the group and other Chinese citizens.

Lawmakers, recognizing the momentum behind human rights legislation concerning China, are working to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills to agree on one version that can pass swiftly through Congress before the end of the year.

[…] Among other provisions, the bill requires the president to submit to Congress within 120 days a list of senior Chinese government officials guilty of human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xianjiang or elsewhere in China. That list would include Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and officials responsible for mass incarceration or “re-education“ efforts that single out Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

The president would be required to impose visa and financial restrictions on the listed individuals under the Global Magnitsky Act.

[…] “We need to get something sent over here that’s acceptable to both sides and that we could hopefully persuade Banking to waive jurisdiction on it,” [U.S. Senator Marco] Rubio said, referring to the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over export controls. [Source]

President Trump last week signed the Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act, which requires an annual review that Hong Kong’s freedoms are being maintained and imposes penalties on Beijing for acts of repression in Hong Kong, where a six-month running protest movement is ongoing. China reacted by imposing sanctions on U.S. rights NGOs and banning U.S. military vessels from visiting the city. Following the approval of the House Uyghur bill, Beijing has issued warnings of retaliation to Washington. Reuters’ Se Young Lee and David Brunnstrom report:

Several sources familiar with Beijing’s stance told Reuters the bill could jeopardize the so-called phase-one trade deal already fraught with disagreements and complications.

[…] “Do you think if America takes actions to hurt China’s interests we won’t take any action?” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said when asked whether the Uighur bill would affect the trade negotiations. “I think any wrong words and deeds must pay the due price.”

[…] Hua said China would set no timeline or deadline for a trade deal and would take “decisive” countermeasures to defend its interests if what she called U.S. protectionism and bullying over trade continued.

[…] Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gang made “stern representations” to William Klein, the U.S. embassy’s minister counselor for political affairs, and urged the United States to stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs, state TV reported. [Source]

Hua Chunying spoke at length on China’s opposition to the bill in her December 4th press conference. On Twitter, just ahead of the passing of the bill, editor of the state-affiliated nationalistic Global Times also warned of retaliation:

More on Chinese threats to leverage its stance in the ongoing trade talks with the U.S. in response to the bill comes from the South China Morning Post’s Shi Jiangtao and Jun Mai. The SCMP coverage also notes that while some observers don’t see the provisions of the new bill having a major impact on Xinjiang officials, international rights organizations are applauding the congressional action:

“The response from international communities has been inadequate so far given the severity of the abuse. We hope to see targeted sanctions being imposed on officials in Xinjiang where there is at least a reputational cost,” [senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch Maya] Wang said, adding that the bill would encourage governments and diplomats around the world to step up the pressure.

“The … sanctions might seem to have little impact on the lives of the abusers but it is sending the right signal to those who are [responsible].”

Adam Ni, co-editor of China Neican, a China analysis newsletter, said the passage of the bill indicated that the US was increasingly willing to use different levers of power to confront China.

“Both bills are quite important especially in the juncture in the bilateral relations as well as the domestic debate in the US on how to respond to China. There’s an increasing sentiment among elites in Washington that China policy needs to change, the US needs to devise an effective response to China’s challenge,” he said. [Source]

The crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, which has been called a form of “cultural genocide,” was officially launched in 2014. Beginning with policies limiting Islamic dress and religious custom, and promoting practices forbidden in , it has since 2017 culminated in AI-fueled mass detention program where an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs have been or are being held in a network of internment camps. In recent weeks, a series of leaks—the first published by The New York Times, another analyzed by China ethnic minority scholar Adrian Zenz, and yet another acquired by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists—have further revealed the evolution and execution of the mass detention program.

As international opposition to China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang mounts and as U.S. congress works to pass a relevant law aimed at the Chinese officials responsible for the situation, the South China Morning Post’s Mimi Lau reports on the difficulties Beijing is having filling official posts in the Xinjiang region:

The measures targeting Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have triggered “widespread discontent among Han Chinese officials and citizens”, a source close to the central government told the South China Morning Post. The source said Chinese President Xi Jinping was aware of the problem because he had been briefed by the country’s chief Xinjiang policy coordinator, Wang Yang.

[…] “[Wang has] said in his briefings that even the Han people are deeply dissatisfied,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Life is harsh [in Xinjiang] even for cadres. Officials are exhausted as nobody is allowed days off [even after working for weeks].”

[…F]or the officials on the ground in charge of carrying out Beijing’s Xinjiang policies, life is increasingly unpleasant, according to the source. China has set up what is called a “sent-down system” in the region that requires cadres to live in the homes of Uygurs as part of surveillance programmes.

“The cadres sent down must bring gifts and pay out of their own pocket and anyone refusing to go is sacked right on the spot. Measures like these have triggered widespread resentment,” the source said.

Xinjiang authorities regularly advertise jobs with lucrative packages, but it is hard to retain people and requests for early retirement have been rejected. [Source]


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