National Security

Satellite Images Reveal Expansion of Uighur Camps

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A series of satellite images analyzed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) indicate a significant expansion of multiple Uighur labor and prison camps across the Xinjiang region in China, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The expansion of these camps stands in direct contradiction to Chinese Communist Party statements from recent months, which asserted that many detainees from Uighur camps had "graduated," implying they had reintegrated into Chinese society and were living in freedom. The images reveal, however, large-scale buildups of camp capacities, walls, and new prison sites.

"Evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees in Xinjiang’s vast ‘re-education’ network are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons," Nathan Ruser, who led the project at ASPI, wrote in the report.

Images obtained by ASPI were taken by satellite, often at nighttime, so that ASPI experts could identify new clusters of lighting as potential new camp locations. Foreign journalists and investigators are in large part barred from observing on-the-ground conditions at Uighur camps, even as calls from the United Nations and other groups for independent observers intensify.

Though Beijing consistently refuses to disclose the number of camps in Xinjiang, these most recent satellite images reveal at least 380 camps, with 61 recently expanded and 14 still under construction since July 2019.

Prominent Chinese commentators and officials deny any wrongdoing, often even turning accusations of human-rights abuses back at the West. A Wednesday article from the pro-CCP outlet Global Times asserted that "Westerners' accusations are unreasonable and immoral."

"The West is not qualified to accuse China of its governance in ethnic minority autonomous regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet," the column reads. "On the contrary, the West should learn from China's governance methods."

The Trump administration has pursued a more hawkish pursuit of human-rights abuses in China, passing significant sanctions in recent months to that end. 

This week, the House of Representatives resoundingly voted yes on an act that would mitigate the ability for private companies to do business with Xinjiang-associated Chinese firms. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security issued similar sanctions that may cost Beijing up to $250 million.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the Uighur issue before state legislators in Wisconsin on Wednesday." The administration has made religious freedom a real priority all around the world," he said.

"Make no mistake, what’s happening in those places the world is awakening to, and all we ask is that the Chinese Government cease that kind of activity and treat these people with the respect which they have earned by nature of their humanity," Pompeo added. "It’s really that simple."