Over in the US, concern is mounting that more than a few of the 360,000 Chinese nationals studying in US schools could be spying for the Communist Party.
But the real spying, on a level that would put George Orwell’s 1984 to shame, is going on inside China itself. And nowhere is this more predominant than China’s far west region of Xinjiang.
Halmurat Idris knows this all too well, as AP reports.
Smiles don’t hide the spy
When the 49-year-old petroleum engineer saw a photo of his 39-year-old sister smiling alongside an elderly woman he did not know, Idris was instantly suspicious.
Both his sister and the woman were smiling in the photo, Idris says, which was posted on a social media account with the caption ‘Look, I have a Han Chinese mother now!’, and finished with a smiley face.
But it wasn’t fooling Idris, who knew instantly that the old woman was a spy for the Chinese government. She was one of the 1.1 million local government workers stationed in the homes of citizen’s apart of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China.
As Idris’ sister is part of the Uyghur community — a largely Islamic community situated in XinJiang — Idris knew his family was being infiltrated.
‘I wanted to throw up. The moment I saw the old woman, I thought, “Ugh, this person is our enemy.” If your enemy became your mother, think about it — how would you feel?’
And it isn’t just homes where these spies are being deployed. Places of arguably greater intimacy — like Muslim prayer spaces, weddings and funerals — are also being closely monitored.
And for what cause?
It is yet another instance of minority impression from the Han Chinese, who account for over 90% of China’s entire population.
Signs point to this plan being an effort to stamp in the Han way on the Uyghurs — following a similar pattern to that of our First Australians.
And it’s causing the Uyghur people to feel intruded upon in the only place where their safety seemed secure — or so says their loved ones, who spoke to The Associated Press, who reside in exile in Turkey. And they’re claims are based on prior contact with their relatives, which they cannot update.
Uyghurs can now be punished for conversing with anyone abroad.
Anything left of field to the traditional Han lifestyle can be taken as extremism by authorities, a crime which — as the world has recently seen — can incur a fatal punishment. Apparently, talking with non-Chinese relatives falls into this bracket.
As does a misplaced Quran, or a casual comment that can come across as blasphemous. They also aren’t allowed to pray or wear religious garbs while these ‘relatives’ are in company.
But of course, China does not want the rest of the world to know of their communist behaviour. Thus, they have attempted to mask this oppression under the warm smiles of a loving cultural exchange. A program called ‘Pair Up and Become Family’.
Naturally, they left out the ‘or else’ part.
Communism hidden under cultural unity guise
Chinese President Xi Jinping has ruled for heavy surveillance over the Uyghur homeland. Methods include armed checkpoints on street corners and CCTV cameras with facial-recognition technology.
It’s the ultimate violation of privacy.
An ethnographer at England’s Newcastle University said of the initiative:
‘The government is trying to destroy that last protected space in which Uighurs have been able to maintain their identity.’
Tensions between Muslim minorities and Han Chinese have been rising in the past few years. There’s been cases of violent attacks aimed at Uyghur separatists — those in the community refusing to integrate with the Han culture. And according to expert estimates, a crackdown on ‘extremism’ put over one million Muslim in internment camps.
Such a fate is a constant concern for the Uyghur people. Letting a party member into their homes appears to be the only way to prevent this reality.
This initiative was instigated in ‘Becoming Family Week’. Government reports ensure the program was all about ‘family reunions’, boasting of the happy camaraderie between public servant and Uyghurs who were now sharing households.
This ‘week’ evolved into the now standardised homestay program.
The Xinjiang United Front Work Department said in February that government workers are expected to live with their assigned families for five consecutive days every two months.
It’s also been noted that not all the ‘visitors’ are Han Chinese. Gu Li, a Uyghur cadre, has said she is a regular visitor to a Uyghur household.
Not all ‘Become Family’ pairings involve Han Chinese visitors. A Uyghur cadre named Gu Li said she regularly pays visits to a Uyghur household, staying three to five days at a time.
She said in a phone interview from Xinjiang:
‘We’ve already started calling each other family…China’s 56 ethnic groups are all one family.’
It is such optimism and insistence on cultural unity which China is keeping as the face of the initiative.
But we know better. Or at least, we better know better.
Australia should not side with a communist China
Gu Li insisted that these regular visits are necessary to understand the wants of the Uyghur community.
‘Because we’re always sitting in our offices, we don’t know what they really need. Only through penetrating the masses can we truly serve them.’
Clearly they are yet to spot the Uyghur people’s desire for privacy.
But surely we are not this blind?
If nothing else, this ridiculously invasive mode of government control is…unwanted. And yet, there are calls for Australia to ally closer to China than the US.
Is this what we want? Do we want our government ‘penetrating the masses’?
Apparently so. Especially considering this recent push for encryption laws.
Well I certainly won’t be smiling if that time comes.
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