Open letter to Monthly Review

Marcelo Guimarães Lima, Red and Blue Still-life, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 cm, 2020


About Xinjiang and the Qiao Collective

Dear friends of Monthly Review,

As scholars and activists committed to charting a course for an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist left amid rising US-China tensions, we write in response to your recent republication of A report and compilation of sources on Xinjiang, authored by the Qiao Collective.

We fully recognize the need for a critique of the US's cynical and self-serving attacks on China's domestic policies. We are committed to this task. But the left must not maintain a position of apology for the campaign of harsh Islamophobic repression that is now taking place in Xinjiang.

O Report de Qiao is written in a style that is, unfortunately, all too common these days in left-wing discussions of China. although the Report “recognize that there are aspects of the PRC [People's Republic of China] policy in Xinjiang to be criticized,” there is no criticism to be found in its 15.000 words. Eschewing serious analysis, he compiles selected political and biographical facts to suggest, but not articulate, the intended conclusion – that accusations of severe repression in Xinjiang can be rejected.

We would like to speak of internment camps as a myth, fabricated by National Endowment for Democracy and by the CIA. But it is not. There are problematic links between individual activists and organizations and the US security state, and there have been mistakes and misrepresentations in reporting from Xinjiang. The applicability of terms such as “genocide” and “slavery” can be debated, but none of these should allow for agnosticism, let alone denial, regarding what clearly constitutes an appalling violation of the rights of Xinjiang's native peoples.

Since 2016, Xinjiang has seen a massive expansion of its security infrastructure, featuring a network of camps comprising a punishing program of political indoctrination, mandatory language exercises and reformatory-style “vocational” training. The inmates range from Party members deemed disloyal, intellectuals and artists whose work has upheld the region's distinctive non-Chinese cultural identities, to those believed to exhibit signs of excessive faith. In the same period, Xinjiang saw a increase in the number of arrests com Muslim Uighurs jailed only for encouraging their peers to respect their faith. Others, however, were sent to mainland China as part of non-voluntary work programs designed to instill factory discipline in Xinjiang's rural population. In some cases, these workers were sent to factories linked to the supply chains of western companies.


Families within Xinjiang have been torn apart, with around 40% of school-age children enrolled in boarding schools and many growing in state orphanages. Outside China, Uighurs, Kazakhs and others live with the trauma of not knowing the fate of their families.

While elements of these policies evoke the excesses of previous ideological campaigns in China, they are taking place today in new conditions of rapid capitalist development in Xinjiang, with the aim of transforming the region into an economic hub of Central Asia. The link here between capitalist expansion and the oppression of indigenous communities is one with which the left has long been familiar. Failing to recognize and criticize these dynamics, in this case, is a form of willful blindness.

There are several ways in which the Qiao Collective's policy abandons what should constitute the key tenets of an internationalist left today, but we want to highlight one in particular: its treatment of the issue of "counterterrorism".

Qiao would have us believe that the PRC's campaign to combat radical resistance (deradicalization) stands in “absolute contrast” to US policies in the War on Terror. On the contrary, this discourse of deradicalization (deradicalization) from China represents a deliberate appropriation of Western counterterrorism practices. In his speeches, the president of China himself, Xi Jinping encouraged officials to adapt elements of the War on Terror led by the West since September 11, 2001.

The authors of Report are aware of these precedents, citing Western policies to preemptively identify those “at risk” of radicalization and intervene. They take note of France's highly intrusive deradicalization policies, as well as Britain's Dropout and Disengagement Programme, part of the notorious Prevention Strategy. (To this list we could, of course, add the abuses of counterterror policing in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.) Surprisingly, however, they cite these policing techniques not to criticize them, but simply to accuse the West of double behavior: They complain that China has received a level of criticism that these European governments have not.

This is utterly false on Qiao's part, a worthy diversion from the Chinese state media they frequently cite. The left, along with Islamic advocacy groups, have long called for an end to these Islamophobic policies, which rest on a false association of Islamic faith and/or anti-imperialist views with a bent toward anti-social violence. Qiao would be happy if China received only the same level of criticism and face the same claims?

Judging by your Report, certainly not. The entire thrust of his report is instead to normalize harmful paradigms of “deradicalization” and “counter-extremism” as an acceptable basis for a state to integrate its Muslim citizens.

Of course Qiao is impressed that "Muslim-majority nations and/or nations that have carried out campaigns against extremism on their own soil" support China at the United Nations. We're not that impressed. These “local campaigns against extremism” replicated the worst violations of America's War on Terror, and often in collaboration with it.

An example Qiao gives here is Nigeria, whose Joint Counterterrorism Task Force was charged by Amnesty International in 2011 of engaging in “unlawful killings, group arrests, arbitrary and unlawful detention, extortion and intimidation”. Another is Pakistan, which the US Commander-in-Chief in Afghanistan once lauded as a “great ally in the war on terror,” and whose air and ground forces are responsible for serial abuses against civilian populations.

The incidents of violence against ordinary Chinese citizens that Qiao cites are obviously not to be dismissed: we must criticize those who engage in terrorism, while acknowledging the social conditions that produce it and pointing to the need for political solutions.

Qiao, on the other hand, directs us to the shadowy world of “terror watching” experts that emerged in symbiosis with the two-decade-long Global War on Terror and provided justifications for state violence. One of the authorities he cites on terrorism in Xinjiang is Rohan Gunaratna, a discredited figure who made a name for himself in the 2000s by urging America and its allies to invade Muslim-majority countries and enact repressive home security laws. If Gunaratna and his ilk are our friends, the Left will have no need for enemies.

Uncritically invoking China's "terrorism problem" and downplaying the severity of Beijing's response to it paints a leftist facade in a global counterterrorism discourse that poses a threat to Muslim communities around the world. The fight against anti-Muslim racism and the devastating effects of the ongoing war on terrorism is international, and our solidarity in that fight must extend to its victims in China.

For these reasons, we find it regrettable that you [from Monthly Review] have decided to give a wider audience to the Reporting and compilation of sources of the Qiao Collective. In recognition of the existence of alternative perspectives on the left, and in the interests of debate, we hope that you will also publish this letter alongside it.

We look forward to future opportunities to collaborate on the left's critical analysis of China and the US-China conflict, and we hope you will reach out to us whenever we can be of assistance. To learn more about the Critical China Scholars and our activities, see our website, which includes video recordings of past webinars.

In solidarity,

*Critical China Scholars is a group of intellectuals composed of Joel Andreas, Angie Baecker, Tani Barlow, David Brophy, Darren Byler, Harlan Chambers, Tina Mai Chen, Charmaine Chua, Christopher Connery, Manfred Elfstrom, Christopher Fan, Ivan Franceschini, Eli Friedman, Jia-Chen Fu, Daniel Fuchs, Joshua Goldstein, Beatrice Gallelli, Paola Iovene, Fabio Lanza, Soonyi Lee, Promise Li, Kevin Lin, Andrew Liu, Nicholas Loubere, Tim Pringle, Aminda Smith, Sigrid Schmalzer, Alexander Day, Rebecca Karl, Uluğ Kuzuoğlu, Ralph Litzinger, Christian Sorace, JS Tan, Jake Werner, Shan Windscript, Lorraine Wong, David Xu Borgonjon.

Translation: Sean Purdy & Emiliano Aquino.


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