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Xinjiang’s counter-terrorism measures protect human rights

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: January 19, 2021

A series of short videos recently broadcast on social media platforms has whetted people’s interest in learning more about the work and lives of people in the southern part of China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

It also triggered wider discussion of people completing courses at vocational education and training centers in southern Xinjiang, which some Western media outlets had falsely dubbed as prison camps.

These people, who were incited, coerced or induced into participating in terrorist or extremist activities, are now back on the right track. They are involved in a variety of jobs — from factory workers, shop owners and company staff to community officials.

These videos provide a realistic picture of life in the region — people work and live freely with confidence that their families and hometowns are getting better.

Asygul, who appeared in one of the videos, used to be jobless for the lack of working skills, and a lack of self-confidence because of marks on her face.

She is now a confident worker at a local garment factory and a part-time model who has become poised in front of the camera.

Hoping to walk a different path from her parents, who had an arranged marriage for her, Asygul is determined to find the one who loves and cares for her, and is living her life her own way.

The changes in Asygul's life are, in a way, a microcosm of what many people from Xinjiang have been through in recent years.

Today, their freedom to pursue the life they want — something they now take for granted like people in other cities in China — used to be an absolute privilege under the shadow of extremism.

For more than two decades since the 1990s, Xinjiang had been rocked by extremism and terrorism, which resulted in thousands of terror attacks that victimized countless innocent people. The most notorious include the Urumqi riots in 2009 that caused the death of 197 people and injured more than 1,700 — and shocked the world.

With their lives significantly disrupted, many people could not receive proper training or education, which limited their ability to seek or choose their preferred lifestyles. Some, like Asygul, were unemployed, and many were stuck in unskilled, poorly paid jobs.

The vocational education and training centers were established in three prefectures of Xinjiang — Kashgar, Aksu and Hotan — with the crucial task of improving literacy in the region and raising people's professional knowledge and skills to advance their careers.

Trainees could choose from an extensive choice of elective courses and attend those that fit their interests. Graduates successfully advanced to diverse career paths such as entrepreneurs, government jobs, medical workers, chefs and manufacturers.

The centers protected people's right to be trained and educated — a universal right recognized by the United Nations — for self-development.

Unlike what has been misreported, trainees were given a considerable level of freedom, including that of choosing their path to the future, and the centers were a ladder to a better life for them and their families.

Local governments launched programs to help graduates with job searches or to set up a business. Rayla Tuohut, owner of a wellness center, for example, was able to start her store with a government subsidy for start-ups.

It is irresponsible for people who do not fully understand the complicated situation in Xinjiang or those who have ideological prejudice or other ulterior motives to comment on the legitimacy of China’s efforts to protect its land and people.  

The establishment of the centers is an exploratory measure in counter-terrorism and deradicalization — critical issues for many countries in recent decades.

The efforts came as the government felt the urgent need to protect citizens’ rights, which were significantly violated as frequent terrorist attacks drastically disrupted people’s normal lives and hindered the underdeveloped region from thriving.

The Chinese government’s response is consistent when it comes to challenges threatening its citizens — from terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang or the COVID-19 epidemic this year. It has spared no efforts in ensuring the safety and rights of its people, especially their right to life.