MIT-Harvard Conference on the Uyghur Human Rights Crisis


JOHN TIRMAN: Welcome to MIT and
this event on the Uyghur crisis in China. On behalf of the Center
for International Studies, I’m John Tirman,
and we welcome you to this half-day
session, two panels, and plenty of discussion on
this very important and urgent issue. Firstly, I thank the co-sponsors
of this event, Radius at MIT, Harvard’s committee on Inner
Asian and Altaic Studies, Harvard FXB’s Center for
Health and Human Rights, MIT’s Student Activities Office,
and the center’s Human Rights and Technology program. And I particularly also want
to thank Michelle English and Laura Kerwin, as
always, to organize this event and the
series of Starr forums throughout the year. And I believe this
is the last Starr forum of this academic year. And I invite you to check
our website in late summer for the autumn events to come. Also, a welcome to
our livestreaming audience on Facebook
and video, which will be posted in a matter
of a few days. We have a very full
schedule, which I’d like to get to
very quickly today. It will include two
panels of scholars, and the first one
in a few moments. But I want to point out that we
will have a question and answer period after each
of the two panels. And we should come to the
microphones in the aisles. I think it’s quite important
in a fraught and somewhat emotional issue
like this that we feel free to state
our views, but we respect free discourse and civil
discourse throughout the day. And we will be mindful
of that in all cases. The two panels then
will be followed by a breakout session
for those of you who want to continue discussion,
and particularly those of you who wish to consider next
steps to act on the things that you have heard today. And that will be down here in
this room for about 30 minutes or so after the
last Q&A and panel. So without further
ado, as they say, I wish to introduce
the, I have to say, extraordinary young woman who
has organized this conference, a senior here at MIT, who really
has been the spirit and moving force behind our gathering
today, Zuli Maimaiti. [APPLAUSE] ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: Thank
you for gathering here today for the conference on the
Uyghur Human Rights Crisis. My name is Zuli. And like Dr. Tirman
said, I’m a senior studying biological
engineering here at MIT, and doing neuroscience
research at Harvard. I just want to echo
again Dr. Tirman’s thanks to our co-sponsors. With the efforts of
both MIT and Harvard, we’re able to bring all of
our six speakers here today. So welcome. And thank you for being here. I want to start the
conference with a saying from the Chinese Confucius
literary tradition. A saying that I heard from
my parents growing up, as part of my Uyghur character. A saying that I came
to learn and understand as the core teaching
of many religions, and at the heart of
cultures around the world. And that is, never impose
onto others what you would not choose for yourself. Or in Chinese– [SPEAKING CHINESE] So this responsibility
that we have to respect with an open mind
the dignity of each individual by placing ourselves
in their shoes taps into the hard-wired
depths of our empathy. Therefore, I invite you to begin
this dialogue of understanding our role in witnessing a
violation of an entire peoples’ human dignity. The loss of the chance of
growing up, knowing who you are or where you’re from. Of knowing the safety or
whereabouts of your loved ones. Or peacefully
graduating, getting married, having children. Or even the simple
feeling of warmth as you close your eyes
when you face the sun. So why are we here? Since the summer
of 2017, we have seen from world media, US
congressional hearings, and human rights
organizations, alarming reports of massive internment
of millions of people. Mostly Muslim, primarily
of Uyghur ethnicity, but also Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. In Xinjiang, we were
an autonomous region located in Northwest China. Under the eyes of the
world, Chinese authorities have turned Xinjiang into a
most heavily surveilled police state. In response to the reports
of the massive internments, people in positions
of power in China first denied the
existence of such centers, as can be seen from the
Consul General of China in Kazakhstan stating, quote, we
do not have such an idea, back in February, 2018. Once evidence started to pile
with pictures and testimonies, they then changed
their narrative, and said that these internment
camps were a poverty alleviation measure. And less than a month
ago, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, in
quote, building vocational, education, and training
centers in Xinjiang is a preventive measure,
and is totally legitimate. Perhaps what’s more
disheartening is best encapsulated
when a Beijing based anti-terrorism expert
stated in the Global Times, in quote, by giving people
who have been influenced by extremism a new chance
into training centers, their human rights have
also been protected. So with that, let’s
take a glimpse at what really happens within
the walls of those training centers. Here, I would like to show you
a short excerpt of testimonies coming from three
camp survivors. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – My name is [INAUDIBLE],,
and I am 29 years old. I am Uyghur. Over the last three years, I
was taken to China’s government detention centers three times. I spent a total of 10
months in the camps. In May 2015, I returned
to China from Egypt where I studied English. I was arrested at the airport,
and my two-month-old triplets were taken away. The officers handcuffed me,
put a dark sack over my head, and took me to a
detention center. My older son had
died in their hands. In April 2017, I was
taken to a detention center for the second time. I was interrogated for four
days and nights without sleep. After being in the
camp for three months, I kept having seizures
and losing consciousness. I was finally released
to a mental hospital. In January 2018, I was
detained for the third time. They put chains on
my wrists and ankles, put a black sack over my head,
and took me to a hospital. I was stripped
naked and put under a big computerized machine. Then I was dressed in a blue
uniform with yellow vest, worn by serious criminals,
and taken to a camp. There were around 60
people in one of the cells where I was held. At night, 15 woman would
stand up while the rest of us would sleep sideways. And then we would
rotate every two hours. Some people had not taken
a shower in over a year. They forced us to
take unknown pills and to drink some
kind of white liquid. The pill caused us to
lose consciousness, and reduced our cognition level. The white liquid caused loss
of menstruation in some women, and extreme bleeding in others– and even death. I also experienced
torture in a tiger chair the second time I was detained. I was taken to a special room,
and placed in a high chair. Bands held my arms
and the legs in place, and tightened when
they pressed a button. The guards put a helmet
on my shaved head. Each time I was
electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently. And I could feel the
pain in my veins. I thought I would rather die
than go through this torture. I begged them to kill me. In another cell
where I was held, there will 40 woman
aged between 17 and 62. When I left the cell after about
three months, there were 68. Most of them were
educated professionals, such as teachers and doctors. I witnessed nine deaths in
my cell in three months. I cannot imagine how many deaths
there must be in all camps. I still remember the
words of the officers when I asked what my crime was. They said, in quote, being
of Uyghur is a crime. – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – Abduweli’s account of his
treatment within the walls of the facilities is horrific. – First day is very bad. The first thing they ask me to– take off my clothes,
strip off my clothes. And they slapped my buttock. They abused me more
than 20 Chinese guys. – When you say they
abused you, how? – That– any man
cannot accept that. – You’re saying they raped you? – Yeah. So I cannot– I can’t forget that. I didn’t tell anybody until now. I hadn’t tell anybody. Because I– I feel shame. In the morning, three
police asked me, one day, if you guys in
power, what you will do to us. I said, look, I’m a human being. I’m not an animal like you. – What followed, he
says, was more violence, this time at the
hands of inmates. They put me in the cell
with the drug addicts and with the killers. And they beat me. Like 24 hours. – And where were the guards? – Guards? Don’t care. They want you be
tortured like this. If you tortured a lot, it means
that you cooperate with them during the interrogation. – Abduweli believes
the rapes and beatings were orchestrated to
force him into admitting he was a terrorist. – I’m a scholar. I’m a writer. And I had never
thought about that. I’m not a terrorist. I’m not a separatist. And– but I confessed. – 101 East interviewed more than
a dozen other former detainees. All shared similar
stories of abuse. [END PLAYBACK] ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI:
These are the stories of only three individuals. Now imagine the unheard
voices of millions of people, surviving every second
in such enclosures. Imagine students and
professors, teachers, academics, punished for striving
for truth and knowledge. Imagine mothers
and fathers robbed of the chance of
embracing their children, and kiss them on the forehead
on their wedding day. Imagine toddlers
systemically engineered to become orphans, stripped
from their parents, community, and identity. So why are people in position
of power in China committing such atrocious crimes? Here, I want to introduce just
some context to the conflict. Since Xinjiang’s announcement
of the Belt and Road Initiative back in late 2013, Xinjiang
became a core region, with its strategic location
along 5,600 kilometer border with eight nations. And in addition, its
vast mineral reserves. Simultaneously,
Chinese authorities resorted to a narrative of
legitimizing its surveillance and mass internment on the basis
of countering three forces– namely terrorism,
extremism, and separatism. Now, like many violent and
confusing times in history such de-extremification efforts
did not differentiate, targeting thousands of
people just like you and me– students, scholars,
academics, artists– who are not at all
involved with such forces. These individuals that you
see in these 100 posters that are on the wall today are
right now at this moment held in such enclosures. All of them, influential in
their respective academic and artistic fields. In the words of
Abduweli from the video, what did they do wrong? As we celebrate our scholars’
drive for excellence in academic institutions
like MIT and Harvard, Chinese authorities are
persecuting and targeting Uyghur scholars for
the same efforts. Yet as I was– we were together
preparing for this conference, many times I was asked the
question of whether or not I was ready to take
such a stance on such a controversial issue. But where is the controversy? Are UN reportings of millions of
people taken into concentration camps a controversy? Are satellite images
of vastly expanding construction of the
enclosures a controversy? Is our oath of “never again”
in this society a controversy? We are here to analyze how
once such a human atrocity is reframed as controversial. It automatically lends
itself to be questioned on the basis of its legitimacy. Yet, we’re not
gathered here today to explore the existence
of the centers. We are also not here to
tell one side of the story, because there are no sides. When a man gets raped
by 20 men because he was a teacher, whose
only crime was his will and devotion of his life
to educate Uyghur children to fulfill their dreams. We are also not here to
explicitly condemn officials. However, we are here
to figure out what bridges we can build instead. We are here to bear witness
to the undeniable evidence of the violation of human
rights happening in Xinjiang. We are here to
analyze how seemingly benign academic, technological,
and economic collaborations and contracts with China
may be inadvertently fueling this crisis in human
dignity, love, and respect. Now, I will focus my talk on the
second aim of the conference. And that is to open a productive
dialogue amongst ourselves in understanding how
technology is not used, but abused by the
Chinese authorities. And thinking more broadly
about how technology is deployed in society at large. Today, China leads the
world in both issued papers, scientific and
engineering papers, and issued patents
in nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. With multi-billion
dollar tech companies thriving under government
initiatives and ambitions, China plans to lead the
world further in digital, robotic, and artificial
intelligence technologies in less than a decade. And of course, all of this
is not harmful by default. However, it is a
double-edged sword, as these tech
companies are recruited by the Chinese authorities
to persecute minorities under a frequently stifling
authoritarian regime. Unfortunately, we
have been blind– or have chosen to look away from
this enormous responsibility that lies ahead. In the deadly
collaborations, partnerships, and funding from Chinese
research institutions and tech companies that
participate, in effect, in the violation of human
dignity and integrity. And we don’t
actually need to look far to look for those benign
yet costly collaborations. Within a two mile radius
of this very room, we have BGI US headquarters,
which in 2017, launched a genetic testing center
in Xinjiang to collect DNA data from Uyghurs– mostly from those
in camps, let alone from consenting individuals. We have Thermo Fisher, a company
that just recently stopped selling their genetic
testing equipment in Xinjiang for massive illegal collection
of Uyghur genetic data. That can be used for
illegal organ harvesting, and targeted prosecutions
of Uyghur dissidents. We even have our
own institutions. MIT CSAIL, forming a five
year research collaboration with iFLYTEK, which according
to Human Rights Watch, has enforced intrusive
collection of biometric data from adults and
children in Xinjiang, and used AI-enabled
recognition technologies to establish big data
platforms that are explicitly used by the police to target
ethnic minorities and those with psychosocial disabilities. This past February, MIT
rushed into another research partnership with
Chinese AI giant and global facial recognition
leader, SenseTime, which has a joint venture with
Leon Technologies facilitating government infrastructure in
Xinjiang for surveillance. Partly because of ignorance. And partly because higher
education in technology teaches ethics
only incidentally. And engages human rights
impacts of technology even more superficially, if at all. In costly ways, we, as students,
researchers, technologists, and entrepreneurs are
passively participating as Chinese authorities
build a 21st century police state in Xinjiang. And these technologies
include facial recognition, phone surveillance,
DNA sequencing, and biometrics verification. All of it, done with our help. Knowing how we have failed as
institutions and individuals to overlook our potential
impact on a people more than 7,000 miles away
may feel disheartening. However, recognizing
this responsibility gives us the power to
change our response. Loving and supporting
our academic institutions require much more than
sharing praises and avoiding uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, we need disruptions
to question the status quo by standing up
for what is right. And that is exactly why I am
standing before you today. Because I believe in our
ability to bring about change. Individually, do we become
overwhelmed with tragedy? Or do we use our positions
as researchers, academics, activists, journalists, or
politicians to think critically and ethically before we engage
with Chinese authorities and companies? Institutionally, do
we avoid accusations? Or do we educate the current
and future engineers, technologists, and
leaders in the world to confront China’s
abuse of digital cyber and biological technologies? Do we merely inform ourselves
of what is happening? Where do we begin to
share these stories? And call US representatives
in protecting human dignity and technological tyranny– preventing
technological tyranny. Now, MIT and Harvard
share a long history of standing up for truth and
justice through understanding. We are all connected
as one people. The Uyghurs want what you
and I all seek deep within– a way to live life with meaning. The dignity to live
life with meaning. The Uyghurs are a part of me,
but also, a part of all of us. As collective humanity,
we have been tested by the current and past wars. We have been tried by
the bigotry and politics. But in the words
of John F Kennedy, we have also been unwilling
to witness or permit the slow undoings of
those human rights to which this nation has
always been committed, and to which we
are committed today at home and around the world. Therefore, I invite you to
listen with an open mind to all of our six
speakers here today, and begin to understand and
reconsider the decisions we make in academia. Because when we care, we learn. And as the conflict resolution
specialist Dr. Donna Hicks once said, once we
learn, we no longer can use ignorance as an excuse. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] With that, I’m excited to
introduce our three speakers for the morning session,
whose bios actually are included in the
handout that you received, so feel free to refer to them. First, we will hear from
Professor Sean Roberts. Besides the fact that his work
is widely known with the Uyghur community,
personally, he gave me the hope for this conference
by being the first person to respond within 30 minutes of
me sending out the invitation emails. And I remember screaming yes in
my dorm room when I saw that. Next, we will hear from Dr.
Darren Byler, whom I first encountered digitally
through his articles. Then, through his talk
at Duke University, which started a lot of positive fervor
within the Uyghur community. Then, we will hear from
Professor Rian Thum, whose US congressional
testimony of the crisis left the senators with deep
reflections and jolting of the heart. Without further delay, please
welcome to the stage Professor Sean Roberts. SEAN ROBERTS: Thank
you very much. I’d like to thank
the organizers. And it’s a hard act to follow– Zuli’s very inspirational
introduction to this program today. I’m going to speak about
how we got to this point. And I think one of
the important things to remember– something
this extensive and extreme isn’t due to one single thing. I think that there’s
been a perfect storm of different things
that come together around what’s happening in
the Uyghur region of China. First of all, there is
a long-standing conflict between Uyghurs and
modern Chinese states, which I’m going to talk
a little bit more about. And I think that
is something that’s been going on for a long time. And certainly feeds into
what’s happening now. I think we have to note that
Xi Jinping’s style of rule also plays a major part
in what’s happening. And certainly, many
people have pointed out at meetings like this that we
see a lot of things happening in the Uyghur region that are
also being ruled out elsewhere in China. I think it is important to note
the role of the Belt and Road Initiative. This region, where the
Uyghurs live and view as their homeland, is a
critical strategic location for the Belt and Road. And I think for quite some
time, the Chinese government has viewed the Uyghurs
as kind of a barrier to the realization of making
that region into a transport hub. But the thing I’m going
to speak most about today is the role of the war on
terror in basically facilitating a discourse that, with
time, has targeted Uyghurs by their identity as
potential terrorists. So first, I’ll talk about
the long-standing conflict between Uyghurs and
modern Chinese states. I like to call this the conflict
between Eastern Turkistan and Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the name that is
used by the Chinese government. Many Uyghurs dislike
using the name. It translates as new
territory or new border. And it belies kind of the
more recent connection of this region to modern China. And I think this highlights
the fact that many Uyghurs deny this name. One name that’s often
used is East Turkistan, which has subsequently
been identified by the Chinese
state as essentially a terrorist organization. Just using the
name East Turkistan is assumed to be an
act of extremism. But this gets at
the core, I think, of what the conflict
between Uyghurs and modern Chinese
states is about. And it’s about an issue
of self-determination and territory. That does not necessarily mean
separatism and sovereignty. I think that there’s lots of
ways we see self-determination in the world today, aside
from separate nation states. Uyghurs generally view this
region as their homeland. They see themselves as
the indigenous population of this region, along with
other Turkic nationalities that live in the region. And they also, I
think generally, Uyghurs who think
about this, look at it as having been conquered
by the Ching dynasty in the 18th century, and
subsequently occupied by modern Chinese states. Now, you can look
at that critically through a historical lens. But I think what’s
most important is that’s the general
understanding of this region that Uyghurs have. And the Chinese state has a
diametrically opposed vision of this region as always being
part of China, a greater China. And believing that
the Uyghurs are not indigenous to this region. In fact, I think
what’s really striking about this is in a recent
counterterrorism policy paper of the Chinese government,
about a page and a half– it begins with a page and
a half making this point. That this is a region that’s
always been part of China, and the Uyghurs are
not indigenous to it. So what does that
do of terrorism? I’m not sure. But it shows you how
important that narrative is to the Chinese state. And I think that
what we’re seeing in the conflict between Uyghurs
and modern Chinese states is that it’s a situation where
there has been a colonization. And that has not
been recognized, and has not progressed to
a post-colonial situation. The Chinese state has
probably only twice– the modern Chinese state has
only twice in its history kind of ruled out
accommodating policies that recognize the Uyghurs
attachment to this territory. And they’re very brief–
right after the revolution, and right after the
Cultural Revolution. So I think this has been
a long-standing conflict. But it changed significantly
after September 11, 2001. And that was, of
course, when we were all introduced to the narrative
of global terrorism, which has taken on a life of itself,
I would say, in the world. And six weeks after 9/11,
the Chinese government released a policy paper
claiming that all Uyghur dissent inside China, inside
the People’s Republic of China, and all violent instances
that had happened in this territory
throughout the 1990s, had been perpetrated by a large
international network of Uyghur terrorists funded
by Osama bin Laden. And it included a variety
of organizations abroad, most of which were human rights
organizations, political rights organizations. And it was mostly dismissed by,
I think, the Western audience. In particular, people who
were studying this region and the Uyghur people. However, a year later,
both the US and the UN recognized one of the
organizations outlined in this paper, an organization
called the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, as being
a terrorist organization. And I think that was the
beginning of a process that we’re seeing kind
of the fruits of now. We saw, in addition to
the Chinese government being able to use this
narrative of terrorism to justify its approach
to Uyghur dissent, it also led to a
proliferation of literature in the west that basically took
Chinese claims at face value. And this continues in security
studies and terrorism studies to this day. And the idea is that
this ETIM group that presumably in the
early 1990s was already involved in lots of terrorism
and funded by Osama bin Laden had continued to do exactly
that into the present. Now, I’m going to try to briefly
give you some facts about this from my own research. So the Eastern Turkistan
Islamic Movement– which the people
who were associated with this, if we can call it
an organization at all, never used that term. It was a group that
seemed to be established in about 1998 in Afghanistan,
and existed until 2003. And this person, Hasan Mahsum
was its original organizer. And essentially,
it was a group that was trying to establish an
insurgency within China, a liberation movement
among Uyghurs. As unrealistic as that was
at that time and certainly would be at this
time, they were trying to establish training camps,
and get some Uyghurs over to train to go to war
against the Chinese state. Basically, I don’t
think they ever had any significant resources. They certainly don’t
seem to have ever received funding
from Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In fact, they later
condemned the 9/11 attacks. And they were driven
into Pakistan in 2002 when the US invaded Afghanistan. And in 2003, Hasan
Mahsum was killed, and basically, this
organization ceased to exist. It’s hard to say how many people
went through these training camps. But I’m quite confident it
was a very small number. And there’s no evidence
that they were ever able to go back to China,
and carry out any violence. Unfortunately, about
two years later, an organization–
or at least videos start to appear on the internet. Created by this
man, Abdul Haq, who had been involved with
Hasan Mahsud previously. But he seems to have
moved into Pakistan, and did establish
ties with al-Qaeda. And he creates a
lot of different videos over the period
from 2008 to 2013, where– it’s threatening
attacks on China. But it basically
only shows Abdul Haq, sometimes some stock footage
from back in the day Hasan Mahsud. But there’s no evidence
that this group was ever able to carry out any
attacks inside China. And it’s not clear it ever
had very much of a Uyghur membership base or Uyghur
militants involved with it. And I think this only
changed recently. So my analysis of
this organization was essentially a
recruiting tool of al-Qaeda. Probably not a very
successful one. But trying to attract Uyghur
leaving China to al-Qaeda. So the terrorism threat from
2001 to 2013 in this Uyghur region of China, or
in China in general, is minimal, if not non-existent. We don’t see many
attacks that clearly look like terrorist attacks. We don’t see a whole
lot of violence, period. There were threats made
towards the Olympics from this Abdul Haq person, from
the Turkistan Islamic Party. But nothing really ever
transpired from that. But fear grew out of this. And I think that– not– I think to
a certain extent, where I think the Chinese state
initially used this terrorism threat opportunistically,
I think some people within the state, and
certainly some Han Chinese began to believe that
this was a real threat. And this was further
exacerbated in 2009, when there were mass ethnic
riots in the city of Urumchim where basically Uyghurs and Han
Chinese went after each other and were killing each
other in the streets. This seems to have started
around a protest that was put down by security
forces, but what we saw was a boiling over of tensions. But after that riot, basically
the crackdown was so severe, international communications
and the internet was completely shut off
in this region for a year. Thousands of
Uyghurs disappeared. Scores were arrested. We started to see
more restrictions on Uyghur mobility,
increased surveillance. And we started to see
attacks on religion, and including certain
Uyghur cultural attributes that could be seen as
related to religion. So then, even though
there was no sign that this had anything to do
with religion or terrorism or extremism, it became
kind of caught up in that same discourse. This crackdown was very severe. And I think was a turning
point where we saw, first, the beginning of a cycle
of violence and repression inside China related to Uyghurs. We saw some violent attacks
that look more like terrorism. The details are not
very well known. But every time there
would be a violent attack, we would see more repression. And then we we’d
see more violence. And we have this cycle. And at the same time we
had a significant number of Uyghurs leaving the region. Some going through human
trafficking networks through Southeast Asia. Some mysteriously, in
2015, the government gave out passports
to all Uyghurs. And we had a mass migration
of people legally, just using their passports. And most of these
Uyghurs were going to Turkey, which
is one place that was known among Uyghurs as a
safe haven, where they could go and, if not receive
official refugee status, at least be able
to live peacefully. And finally, a group of
these hundreds of Uyghurs, potentially a
couple of thousand, found themselves in Syria. And actually they were
associated with the Turkistan Islamic Party. And basically, this migration
allowed the Turkistan Islamic Party to finally become
a fighting force. So I think that
this process has led to a general equating of
Uyghurs with terrorists in the eyes of
the Chinese state. By 2016, the People’s
Republic of China begins conflating
Uyghur identity with terrorism and extremism,
seeing the Uyghur population as kind of a virus infecting
China’s harmonious society. In fact, a lot of the
rhetoric of state officials uses this kind of
biological language about the infection of
extremism and of the Uyghurs into China’s larger population. And for the Chinese
government, I think it’s begun to see the
solution that what has always been really an overexaggerated
terrorist threat as being the
transformation, destruction, or quarantine of the Uyghur
identity and the Uyghur population. So we’re going to
hear a lot about this. I’m not going to go into
what’s happened since 2016. But we watched this
unfold, a lot of us who’ve been studying the region. We saw all of this
increased surveillance. Starting the DNA sampling,
cell phone tracking, facial recognition,
surveillance. We saw the creation
of police stations every 300 yards in urban areas. And by 2017, we started seeing
that people were disappearing. And we started learning about
these mass internment camps. So I would suggest
that this is– we’re seeing
something that’s kind of a new form of
ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is generally
associated with the Yugoslav civil war, and associated with
the idea of establish of– removing an ethnic
group from a territory. But what we’re seeing happening
in the Uyghur region of China now is more an attempt
to cleanse the members of the ethnic group. To somehow change them
into different people. I don’t think it’s an attempt
to change them into Chinese. Because I don’t think– I think the relationship between
Uyghurs and the Chinese state is such that Uyghurs are never
really accepted as Chinese. But they are seen as a
dangerous element now. And the idea is to
make them somehow into a docile and
loyal population. Now, I just want to end
with a note about how I think the global war on terror
has facilitated this situation. I mean, certainly
this is something that the Chinese state is doing. But I think the global war on
terror has allowed it to do it. And I think it has in
some ways even encouraged the Chinese state
to do what it’s doing in the Uyghur region. First of all, the
fact that there is no internationally recognized
definition of terrorism is extremely troubling. That we’ve been
fighting a global war for 18 years against an
enemy that we can’t define. And this has allowed, I
think throughout the world, a lot of a repressive,
authoritarian states to attack domestic opposition– and this
happens also in democratic states– and domestic opponents that
have legitimate grievances. And to basically label
them as terrorists. And I think this has a couple
very troubling results. First, it can turn a group that
hasn’t really been militant into a more militant group. It can kind of isolate
them to the point where they see no other option. And secondly, and I think most
troubling and most relevant to what we’re
talking about today, the terrorism label essentially
dehumanizes the people that are tagged with it. And at the same
time, it very much becomes associated with
their thought process. Particularly, the conflation
of terrorism with extremism means that extremism is
not just something you do, it’s something you think. And so that is very easily
conflated with one, Islam. And we’re seeing that around the
world, where people are saying, well, the real problem is Islam
that’s leading to terrorism. And in, I think, the
case of the Uyghurs, it can be conflated with their
identity and their culture. And so I think in
that context, we can see that the
global war on terror essentially lends itself to
genocidal type strategies. And I think that’s part of what
we’re seeing in China today. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] DARREN BYLER: Thank
you all for coming. It’s a real honor to be here. I’m going to pick up on
what Sean was talking about, and turn now to talk to some
extent about the economics that are driving some of this. And also the role of technology
and how it emerged over time. I’m going to talk about what
I call a Chinese security industrial complex. Or in some of my writing, I
call it terror capitalism. So to get started
thinking about this, we need to think
about the 1990s, which is when China was really
opening up to the west, when industrialization
was really taking off in the eastern part
of the country. That’s when all the stuff
that says made in China first began to arrive in
Walmart here in the US. And to get access and to produce
those new forms of production in industry, they
needed resources. And so one of the
things that they needed was oil and natural gas. And that’s when we saw
people moving west. Moving to Xinjiang for
economic opportunities, to work in resource extraction. Because Xinjiang,
the Uyghur homeland, is home to a large percentage
of Chinese oil and natural gas and also coal. It’s now become a source for
industrial agriculture– cotton and tomatoes in particular. And so when those folks
from eastern China moved out to
Xinjiang, they began to build out the hard
infrastructure of the region. And that that looks like
pipelines and roads. And other service industries
that are around those things. So they can get access
to the natural resources. And that really brought people
into the Uyghur homeland to a larger extent. Prior to this, there had been
a Han presence in the region. But they lived primarily
in the northern part of the province or the region. As the infrastructure
build out began, they started moving right into
the heartland of the Uyghur population. And there was a number
of effects from this. This was an open up
the west campaign that was sponsoring a lot of this. It was a Chinese
state initiative. And they wanted to integrate
the Uyghur population with the country, that
was part of the goal. But actually what happened
through this build out was Uyghurs saw themselves being
dispossessed of their land. Because in many cases, land
was actually taken from them. But in a more general sense,
the economy began to shift, and Uyghurs were excluded
from that new economy. Because all of these
natural resource extraction industries centered
only around Han labor. Uyghurs where almost exclusively
excluded from those industries. They just weren’t
given those jobs. And so the economy
began to shift. Things became more
expensive, rents increased, basic staples became
more expensive. And Uyghurs saw themselves
becoming poorer. Even as they were making
the same amount of money, the economy was
shifting around them. And so they saw themselves in
a more desperate situation. Of course there
are some benefits to having infrastructure. There’s roads and there’s also
communications infrastructure. And so by 2010, soon
after those large scale protests in [INAUDIBLE]
was just talking about, 3G networks were built
out across the region. And so for the first time,
Uyghurs in the rural areas– which is the
majority of Uyghurs– had access to 3G networks,
and very soon, smartphones. And so when I went for my
first year of fieldwork as an anthropologist, I was
learning languages in 2011, they were just starting to buy
these smartphones, especially young people. And starting to use them in
their homes across the region. By 2011 or 2012, an app called
WeChat, which is a social media app that allows people to
speak using oral communication, came online as well. And that was really
transformative for Uyghurs. Because prior to this, it
was difficult for Uyghurs to type on a smartphone. The capability wasn’t
there for their language. And also many Uyghurs
are not fully– they prefer to speak,
rather than to type. Some of it has to do
with their education. And they found very
quickly as using this app that they could communicate
with each other fairly freely. Because the state also
didn’t have the capability of regulating oral speech. So they were able
to speak in Uyghur. And the state wasn’t
quite keeping up with what they were saying. And so they were talking
about a lot of things they were talking about culture. They were talking
about politics. This was the time
of the Arab Spring, so they were interested
in some of those issues. They’re interested
in Turkish movies, Iranian movies, all kinds of
movies from around the world– which is something I was
studying at the time. But they’re also
interested in religion. So they’re downloading
messages from teachers based in parts of
Xinjiang, but also based in Turkey and Uzbekistan. Mostly conversations– they
were interesting conversations about what does it
mean to be Muslim. Very normal kind
of Muslim stuff. Like what’s halal, what’s haram? What does it mean to be
a contemporary person in the world today? And so people began to get
to adapt their lifestyle in certain ways, and became
more pious in their appearance as Muslims. So WeChat enabled
a couple of things. It began to change religious
perspectives and practice. But it also gave people
ideas about the city and about being
a global citizen. So during this time,
we saw lots of people moving from rural areas
to regional centers, and then from there to the city. Especially young men, who were
incentivized by their families or asked by their
families to go to the city and try to find a job. They came for a
number of reasons. To find jobs was one of them. But the other reason
was religious practice. Because in the city, they were
able to practice their faith more freely. There’s more
anonymity in the city. So that meant that they could
go to the mosque more regularly. They could dress how
they wanted to dress. In the countryside,
in the rural area, people would watch more closely. The mosque space were full. So in 2014, when I did a
second year of fieldwork, this is what Friday
prayers looked like. There was so many people that
couldn’t fit inside the mosque. But the mosque was also seen as
not the location of real Islam. It was the center
of ritual practice. But the Islamic practice itself
happened around the mosque in prayer room spaces
and on people’s phones. People were passing
messages using SD cards, using Bluetooth technology. They would sit and
discuss messages. They would share things. They built online
personas as a WeChat user. And the internet became
a really important part of people’s everyday life. So many young men
that I interviewed told me that putting
money on their phone card was an important
part of their week. If they couldn’t put
money on their card, they couldn’t contact their
family back in the countryside. They also couldn’t find jobs. And they also couldn’t
perform their religiosity. So the state was paying
attention to this. They began to
realize that people are using WeChat to
do stuff that they thought was crossing the line. And so they were trying to find
ways to assess and regulate it. And they’re also concerned
with the kind of trend in violence that was happening
in spaces around the weaker homeland. But also in other
parts of China. There was an attack in Kunming,
and another one in Beijing that really alarmed people. Especially in other
parts of China. And the discourse of
terrorism really picked up. Officials I interviewed
at this time told me that they were seeing
among Uyghurs a talibanization of the Uyghurs. Uyghurs, they thought,
were becoming extremists. So in 2014, they declared
the people’s war on terror. And that looked like this. It was posters that were placed
in every alleyway in the Uyghur neighborhoods, saying that
you’re no longer permitted to dress in these manners. Women were no longer
allowed to veil themselves. Young men, no longer
allowed to have beards. And Islamic symbols
were now forbidden. Instead, this poster
says, you should look like a normal person,
a beautiful person. And so pious
expressions of Islam were now officially outlawed. And there was also
new mechanisms put in place to put people– to expel people from the city,
and begin this reeducation process. It picked up two years later
to a much larger extent. So what does this look like? And building a little bit on
what Sean was talking about, the people’s war on
terror is one in which the people are involved. Everyone’s invested. If you see something,
say something. It’s that sort of thinking. But it’s also fought in
a different register. So it’s not about occupying
and bombing another country, as the US has done in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, it’s about
targeting a population– an native population–
that’s in their own country. Domestic populations
of people citizens. It’s minority Muslim
people that look different– that
are Turkic, that speak a different language. And so in that sense,
it’s different than the US model of war on terror. It also uses different
technologies in different ways. It’s using cameras, checkpoints,
prisons, internment camps, and forced labor. So it’s less about
overt violence. But it’s more about a
long, slow, deep violence. This is funded and
operationalized by technology, but also state
security and higher education. That’s why it’s a
security complex. These people are
working together to build this new industry
around controlling and re-educating the population. The goal is to break the
autonomy of the Uyghur internet, WeChat, and also
control their movement. There’s now 1,400 tech firms
that are working explicitly on this in Xinjiang. That’s a growth from just
over the last decade. And in the last two
years, $7.2 billion have been invested
in this industry. A couple of the examples
that I can point out that have been produced
by this industry is technology from a company
called Meiya Pico that does AI-enabled
auto-transcription and translation of
Uyghur spoken audio. So you can see that’s a
technology that’s meant to assess WeChat oral speech. There’s also new
programs put in place to do the auto-detection
of Uyghur faces, to operationalize ethno-racial
profiling as an explicit goal of an AI system. If you go to this region as
I did most recently in April of last year, this is the sort
of thing you’ll first notice, is the convenience
police stations that are every 300 meters
on every city block. These are really
checkpoint-oriented facilities, and also rapid response units. But mostly, it’s about
cameras that are based in each of these stations. And also the sort of
random checkpoints that are or facilitated by them. People coming out
of the station, and then conducting spot checks. They are also
racially profiling, where it’s basically looking
for Uyghur, young Uyghur that look like they’re
rural, that don’t look like they’re from the city,
that are potentially suspect. As you move through
the space, you’ll also find many checkpoints
between jurisdictions. So as you move out of a
city, across the county line, sometimes it’s more
dense than that, just going into a shopping mall
or any sort of institution, there’ll be a face recognition
enabled checkpoint. Which functions as a
hard reset of the system. Because as you move
through that system, they have a very
clear idea of where that person is in the world. And it’s only really looking for
Uyghurs or Turkic minorities. Because most of
these checkpoints have a green lane
associated with them, where people are
not assessed at all. So this checkpoint, which
I went through in April, there is on the left
side of the checkpoint is the back gate
of the checkpoint. Which is opened by
a police officer for people, based on their
appearance of their face. They just simply look
at the person and say, you can come through this way. I wasn’t sure which
lane to go through because I’m not Uyghur or Han. So I asked the Uyghurs
that I was in line with in Uyghur which line
I should go to go through. And they said, well,
you’re speaking Uyghur, you could possibly
be a city Uyghur. So you should go
through the Uyghur line. So I went through
the Uyghur line. I had a passport, so I wasn’t– they had to assess
me differently, because I don’t
have a national ID. Because the way the system
works is you scan your ID, and then it matches the picture
on your ID to your face. All of this infrastructure,
hard infrastructure, is supported by data
that’s been collected in a sort of
unprecedented manner. In 2016, 2017,
there was a program put in place that was framed
as a public health initiative called Physicals for All. And this required Uyghurs– and others in the province,
but Uyghurs in particular– to go to their
local police station and submit biometric data. So it was a police officer
that was collecting this data. So the public health
aspect of it was, I think, lost in most cases. Instead, was people giving
DNA, blood, and fingerprints. But also speaking
into a device to get a voice signature, unique voice
signature for each person. They had to read the same
thing several times, until it was sufficiently recognized. And then they also
had their face scanned from a variety of
different angles, with different people doing
different expressions. People talk about this
as a long process that took, in some cases, an hour to
get a full scan of the person’s face. Which tells us something
about the resolution and the fidelity of those
images that are being collected. And when 36 million
people do that, you have a database
that’s really unprecedented in terms of
scale and fidelity resolution. 36 million is more than the
population of the region. So that is telling
us either there’s– the official population of
the region is not what it is, or people had to go and
do it more than once to fully meet the
requirements of the system. This is a coercive process. People had to go to the
police station there was no possibility not to
go to the police station and submit your data. This data was then put into
a system that we’re not fully sure as to what extent
it’s operationalized– although I have some
sense that it is working– called Integrated Joint
Operations Platform. There’s more research
that needs to be done on this this platform in
terms of who’s servicing it. We know certain companies that
are involved in parts of it. But together, it’s
a regional database that’s collecting
all of this data and putting it in
a single space. It’s getting data from, in
addition to the biometric stuff that’s been collected, CCTV
cameras, Wi-Fi sniffers, getting packets of information
as it moves through space, looking through health
records, banking records, family planning history. And of course, all
of those checkpoints. It’s also supported
by a nanny app that people have been asked
to install on their phones. In [INAUDIBLE] at
least they’re using an app called Jingwant Weishi,
which is clean neck guard. That’s one of the ways
you could translate it. In other spaces,
it’s a different app. But in general, people have
this app on their phone. When I was there in April,
I was observing many people having this app checked on
their phone at many checkpoints. My research focus at
that time was really going through
checkpoints, and doing observations of how people
were interacting with police. This app, as we understand
it, works to first certify who is using the phone. It’s matched to the person’s ID. And then it searches
through all messaging coming from that phone to
find unique identifiers of your social network. So it’s looking at all
messaging from both video and audio to text and
any other things that’s coming out of your phone. Photos. So together, all of
that stuff is then compared to an external
database for any kind of flagged materials. It’s gonna figure out who
you’re connected with. Users that have flagged
material on their phone are supposed to
delete it immediately. They can also be called in
to the police station if they don’t. So in addition to all of this
quantitative kind of data that’s using tech, there’s also
a qualitative aspect to it, where people were asked
to go into Uyghur homes, and also Kazakh homes. Police officers,
but also what they call relatives or civil
servants that are sent to monitor and assess Uyghurs. And in general, they
use 10 categories to do these assessments. People started out
with 100 points, and you’re considered
a safe person. And then through this
assessment you’re determined to be safe,
unsafe, normal, or unsafe. So you start with 100 points,
and each of these categories count as minus 10. So if you’re of
military age, minus 10. If you’re Uyghur, minus 10. If you’re
underemployed, minus 10. Which are sort of
categories of existence that counted for
many, many people. So already, most people
are just normal category. Then if you traveled abroad,
you have a passport, gone to one of 26 banned countries
or Muslim majority countries, if you’ve overstayed a visa
or have a family member living abroad, those
are all categories that count against you. Then there’s three
important categories that are focused on religion. So if you pray
regularly, minus 10. And if you have religious
knowledge, which means like you pass
messages on WeChat, your learned Arabic
or studied the Koran, those are all things that
will count against you. And those are the things that
caught many, many people. Because they’re actually
using technology to assess these things. Not just people saying, no, I
don’t have religious knowledge. There is also a category
about family life. Teaching your children
about Islam in your home is also forbidden. So talking to people that
have been in this system and gone through
these assessments– this is [INAUDIBLE],,
who we saw a short video from at the beginning
of this conference. She said that in her
cell, there’s really two categories of people. The people of her age, which
is the older generation, were often taken to the cell
because they had their phone number in someone else’s phone. Someone else had been
detained, and then they went through that person’s
phone and saw all the contacts. And then those people
were also detained. So that’s one way that
technology is used in kind of a really direct way. But there’s also digital
footprint searches that are also pulling
people into the system. She said that the
younger generation of people that were
in the cell with her had things on their
phone that they had deleted a long time ago. Or at least some
of them said that. This one girl told her, I
deleted them a long time ago, but somehow they restored them. They were just pictures
of women in veils. In one of them, a little girl is
holding her hands up in prayer. And so that’s enough to kind
of signify to the police or to people doing assessments
that this is an extremist that is suspicious, and
needs to be detained for further assessment. Once you’re determined
to be unsafe, you’re sent to a camp,
which is something that Ryan is going to talk
about in his talk, where you’re scheduled for reeducation. There’s camps all over
the province or region. Most of them function as kind
of medium security prisons, where people are held in
dormitories under lock– locked– in locked
cells with armed guards. But there is a
re-education aspect to it. Some people are learning
Chinese if their Chinese is bad. Most people doing that. But also learning
political thought. And going through a sort
of forced confessions, struggle sessions. So that’s what we
see possibly here. Though it’s really hard
to source these images and know exactly
what’s going on. But we’ve heard
from some reports that people have to
stand and denounce their past crimes, studying
the Koran or what have you. And then others are
meant to criticize them. And through this
process, you gain points towards eventual
release or movement into a minimum security
space in the camp. Those that successfully
graduate are put into forced internships,
at least some of them, close to the camp. So this is an image that’s
showing you prison-like areas. And then recently built, just
over the last six months, factory-type spaces
just to the north of it, the red area, the
buildings with red roofs. People in those spaces
are often learning how to do textile work. Maybe they already
knew, I don’t know. The people that so far that have
been moved into these spaces are people that are actually
quite well educated. Because they can speak
Chinese fluently, and they know how to navigate
the political system, and they can speak
and take tests well. And so it’s not clear that
these people are actually getting much benefit from the
training at the sewing machine. So just to begin
to wrap up, what’s been produced
through the system– kind of throughout it, both
in the camps and outside of the camps– is a
new division of power. Power in terms of
personal autonomy, but also collective autonomy. One person I interviewed
told me Uyghur are alive, but our entire lives are
now spent behind walls. It’s like we are ghosts
living in another world. A Han relative, someone
was sent to assess people in their homes, told me, I
feel so much more freedom. So much freedom now. We can go anywhere we want. And so from his perspective,
this was a monumental success. It was something that
had produced real change. And really, he felt,
empowering for himself. The mosque spaces
that were overflowing when I began my fieldwork
and through the midpoint of my fieldwork are
now completely empty. They’re still open,
but there’s checkpoints at the front of them. So no one is
entering the mosques. Tech employees that
work in this space talk about how what
they’re building has unlimited market potential. Because the Belt
and Road Initiative encompasses 60% of the
world’s Muslim population. They said there are all
kinds of applications where this population management
tools can be put in place. There’s many tech
firms involved in this. Most of the leading AI companies
in China are involved in this. This is sort of a testing ground
to build out and experiment with their technology. China wants to invest $150
billion in AI by 2030. They want to be a world
power when it comes to tech. And so they’re putting a
lot of money behind this. These companies are
integrated with the West. Some of them have
partnerships with institutions here like MIT. It’s also not simply Chinese
investment money going into this state investment. There’s also foreign
investment that’s supporting some of these
tech firms as well. So Fidelity International,
Qualcomm Ventures, Sequoia and Sinovation
have all put money into these tech companies. So to finally conclude, from
Uyghur perspectives, what’s being produced by this
is open air prisons. So both in the camp themselves,
but also outside of the camp, all movement is monitored. All kind of thought
is monitored when it comes to digital communication. And so people feel themselves
changing their human behavior. It’s also producing
what Uyghurs see as a weakening of
basic institutions– their faith, language,
family, and cuisine. Those kind of basic
things that are still parts of who they are as
native people to this space. From the state perspective,
what’s being produced is long-term security,
long-term stability. They also see unlimited
industrial growth outside of China. And in China. But throughout kind
of the global south. Those are kind of
the target spaces where they want to go
next with this technology. So I’ll leave it at that. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] RIAN THUM: Thank
you all for coming. And thank you to Zuli and
the whole team for organizing this really impressive event. As we’ve already seen from
the other presentations, the history of the
construction of what really looks like an ethno
totalitarian state in Xinjiang is deeper than just the
last couple of years. And I would throw out
one example of that, just to give you another
sense of that. Already, as early as 2010
or 2011, a lot of Uyghurs were required to have something
called a people’s convenience card, or what they colloquially
called a green card, which required them to get permission
to move from one city to another. And by 2015, that was
pretty much widespread. So this is a– we should have already been– the alarm bells
should have already been ringing for the
rest of the world that something sort of
uniquely awful was unfolding. But what really caught
the world’s attention was the building of
mass internment camps, and the imprisonment of
an estimated high hundreds of thousands, up to two
million people in those camps. And what I want to do is
just step back a little bit and talk about– focus on that, and talk
about the evidence base. And you’ll get some
more of the evidence base from other
speakers later, in terms of testimonies from people
on the satellite images. So I will focus on
the evidence that comes from the mouth of
the Chinese state itself. Because there is a lot of it. And enough to make
this undeniable. So the basic claim I want
to talk about is the– well, let me just introduce a
little bit about these camps. The people who are put
in these are put in them without any criminal
charges, without any trial. They never come before a judge,
they don’t have a lawyer. There is no appeal. And in many, perhaps
most cases, there is no notification
of family members. People simply disappear. I think in some ways, in
terms of the world gaining recognition, gaining awareness
of what was going on, the most important
evidence may have been the system by which
the Chinese state advertised for contractors to
build these camps. A German scholar named
Adrian Zenz recognized that the Chinese state was
advertising bids openly online for
construction companies to compete to build these camps. And he harvested about 50
something of these notices, and used that to produce the
first really thorough study of the camp system, which came–
this study came out in about 2018– March, was it? April? 2018? A lot of the journalism and
reporting that’s followed has been based ultimately
on this kind of evidence. And it struck me that these
bids have not actually been shown to the
public very much. So I wanted to show one to you. Most of these have now been
scrubbed from the internet by the authorities, because they
realize how damning they are. But we have screenshots of them. And some of them have been
preserved on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. So here’s a typical
example calling for the construction of
a so-called legal system education transformation
school in the town of [INAUDIBLE],, which is
[INAUDIBLE] in Chinese. You can see, some of the
information is blacked out. You have to be like a registered
participant in the system to see it. But a lot of it is
open to the public. For example, you can see that
it is the United Front Work Department that is calling
for this construction. And if you scroll down
on a lot of these, you can get some details
of what kind of equipment any bidder will have
to provide if they’re going to build these camps. So for example,
this one has a lot of very specialized security
terminology on different forms of fence, which I’ve
somewhat– fencing and bars and things– which
I’ve somewhat crudely translated here. So this is a major
kind of evidence that journalists then
followed up on and created even larger investigations. Here’s a really important
piece of journalism– that I think has not been
paid enough attention to– by AFP that looked at over
1,000 documents from the state that they found
online, which catalogs a lot of the kinds of equipment
that these so-called training schools have. Electric cattle prods, spiked
clubs, stun guns, razor wire. Another interesting thing you
can see from these documents is the changing of names for
these institutions over time. And they’re kind of– it’s kind of a
modular naming system. They start out– I’m just giving you a
representative sample– they start out talking
about eliminating extremism. Then they go, for
a little while, you get this legal system thing,
which is sprinkled throughout. Most common uniting
factor is the idea of education and
transformation, which you see over the course
of two and a half years. And then ultimately, settling
on what they call them today, which is a vocational skills
education training center. But the mixing and matching of
these different model modular units makes it clear
that these are basically the same kind of institution
with the names changing over time. I also want to point out
the range of dates here. One of the things
that’s striking about this program of
internment camp construction is how incredibly
fast it has unfolded. We get our first calls
for the construction of these new buildings
around the summer of 2016. Meaning that
basically, if we just take this sort of middle
ground estimate of the number of people of a million, which
is like 10% of the Uyghur population, that means that
these facilities to house a million people have been built
in the short space of only two years. While I’m at it,
I would also like to point out that this
disappearance of about a million people is on top of a
pre-existing mass incarceration problem. So even before this
mass internment program was rolled out,
Xinjiang had a problem very similar to the
mass incarceration of African-Americans
in the US, whereby Uyghurs were disproportionately
targeted in sentencing and in arrests,
disproportionately poorly represented
in court– not that there are very
many acquittals in the Chinese justice system. So there was already an
enormous number of Uyghursm particularly Uyghur men in
the Chinese prison system. This is outside of that this is
an extra legal system that just added an additional 10%
of the Uyghur population in those two years. OK. Another fascinating
source of evidence that we get from the Chinese
state itself is its propaganda. And if you like most people
have sort of come recently to this story,
you’re probably most likely to be familiar
with the propaganda that sells these camps as benign
skills training centers. And the state has produced
several videos that are filmed in staged camps. They take real
camps, and then they make some alterations to them. For example, one that you
can see on satellite photos is that they add fake sports
courts in the yards outside, or paint like a symbol of a
sports team on the pavement. Here, you can see a still
from one of those videos. And one of the things
that’s different here is the kind of
people that they’ve put in for this staged video. You can see that it’s mixed
gender, it’s younger people. And this, I think,
is probably aimed at making this
look more like what we would think of as a school. When, in fact, other
images we have from inside, which I’ll show you in a moment,
are all segregated by gender. And they tend to include a lot
more people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Another thing that we
see that’s different here from what we otherwise
know about the camps is that we know that
many of these interment and indoctrination camps
have a set of bars or wires that separate the
teacher from the student. So these, actually–
this has been a very effective propaganda
move by the state, because since there is a dearth
of images for the Western media to use when they want to
illustrate their stories, they’ve often taken these stills
from these propaganda videos and said “image from a camp.” Well, it’s not really
an image from a camp. It’s an image from a
staged version of the camp. Nonetheless, this
propaganda drive has given us some actual
data that might be– well, it’s not reliable,
but it certainly has gestured to
things that turned out to be true from
reports from inside. For example, this was
really the first way that we got a sense that
there was a large forced labor component to the
internment system. This is an image
from a tour that was just given to journalists
a couple of days ago. But this wasn’t always
the way the state wanted to represent these centers. And you’ve probably
seen this image. This comes from
officials in Xinjiang, from a period in which there
was a lot more interest in showing local audience–
and showing audiences of other officials
that we, the state, are taking care of these
dangerous and backwards Uyghurs. And so you see a
lot more emphasis in the imagery that was coming
out around 2017 on the fences, on the huge number of police
guards, on orderly rows, on uniforms– this kind of thing. And if I have time
at the end of this– which I’m not sure I
will because I forgot– I don’t know if I will, because
I forgot to start my clock– but if I have
time, I’ll show you where you can access
the original government post of this image. We also have the changing
story of the Chinese state. As Zuli mentioned, there was
an earlier set of soft denials. And we’re not sure about this. We can’t confirm
that these exist. Or maybe a few times
they said they don’t exist to foreign audiences. And then that
transitioned into well, these are actually benevolent
education and skills training centers. At first, they implied that
they were not voluntary. But then they had
a new propaganda that said have all these
people in these staged camps, saying we’re here voluntarily. Well recently, I think
it was about three weeks, four weeks ago, they came
out– the state came out with a new white paper that
actually listed what they say are the reasons for people
going into the camps. And they say the
people in the camps are those who participated
in terrorist or extremist activities in circumstances
that were not serious enough to constitute a crime. What kind of terrorist
or extremist activity is not serious enough
to constitute a crime? That may seem on its face
to be kind of ridiculous. It’s more ridiculous if you
look at the Chinese terrorism law, which includes things
like engaging in thought that supports extremism. So even the things you
think can be a crime, under Chinese terrorist law. But these are the folks who
don’t even rise to that level. These are things for which
you can’t– and also, really heartbreakingly, number
three is people who’ve already served out prison sentences, who
are arbitrarily deemed to need further internment. One last kind of evidence
I want to talk about that comes from the mouth of
representatives of the state is the responses that police
officers in the region have given to journalists
who cold call their stations. A lot of this has been done
by Radio Free Asia, which has a really powerful group
of Uyghur-speaking reporters. It’s also been done by
other journalistic outfits. And one of the really
striking things that has come out
of what police say is an expression of concern
from police officers about not being able to meet
quotas that they’ve been given. We have reports
of quotas of 20%. The highest one that
police have reported was 40% somewhere in Karkash. And in this environment
where the police feel like it’s very
difficult to choose who will go into the
internment camps, they’ve had to resort to some
pretty fine grained analysis of people’s behavior. And some of the things that
either the police have given, or relatives have been told
by police as the reasons that their family members
were chosen for interment, include not watching state TV,
giving up smoking, traveling to a foreign country. And right now,
essentially, any Uyghur who returns from a
foreign country to– all known cases, people without
dual citizenship returning to China end with the
disappearance of that person. Expressing interest in
traveling to a foreign country, having WhatsApp on
your smartphone. This is something to remember
if you’re hearing claims– well, well, no this is– you’re going to hear
people say, well, this is a way of controlling
terrorism or controlling resistance to the state. This is what they’re
actually controlling. And I also want to point out an
interesting thing in the photo that Darren put up of all the
different kinds of clothes you can’t wear, and
appearances you can’t have. One of those images
is actually taken– is an image of Keanu Reeves,
one of the bearded images. Because I think when
it’s put in the context of Islamic extremism,
it’s easy for some people to see a bearded person as
potentially a threat, given the Islamophobic media
environment that we live in. And I think it’s quite
powerful to point out that one of their examples of
what an extremist looks like is a paparazzi photo
of Keanu Reeves. OK. How much time do I have,
since I failed to time myself? OK, great. All right. So that’s all I’ll talk
about for the evidence part. I want to use the remaining time
to make three general points. More interpretive points. And then show you
a database project that I’m working on to help
Uyghurs report their friends and loved ones who
have disappeared. So the first
general point is one that probably doesn’t
need much evidence, given the presentations
that preceded me. But that is that the camps,
for all the emphasis they get in the media, are really
one part of a larger system of control of the Uyghur. They’re an extremely
important part, not just for the
people in the camps, but for their effect on the
people outside the camps. As in any place where people
are subject to extreme efforts of control from the
state, in Xinjiang, Uyghurs have long had
very creative means of evading control. The example I like to use
is that the high prevalence of banned books. Books banned by the
state are often very innocuous fiction and sort
of standard religious texts that would not raise any
eyebrows anywhere else in the world. But Uyghurs used to have– it was very easy to find
banned books in Xinjiang as of five years ago. There were whole publishing
industries putting– underground
publishing industries making everybody’s
favorite novels that the state doesn’t like. That is gone now and people are
now burning their own books. They’re now burying their
own books voluntarily. And the reason is
that they now know, because everyone has had a
family member or a friend, or more likely many family
members and many friends, disappear overnight without any
sort of recourse or opportunity for appeal. People know very well that
they live outside the camps solely at the whim of
the security services. And so now the
game is not so much figuring out how to
get around the rules, but rather figuring
out how to predict what the rules might be. And you can get a sense from
the previous slide of reasons used to select people for the
camps, of how unpredictable these rules might be. It’s not published
anywhere that you have to greet official
on the street, or you might go to the camp. So people are really
in the business of trying to predict what it
is the state might not like. And that really serves as
a disciplinary backstop to everything else
that’s going on. The checkpoints
like you see here. the high presence of police who
get really great cooperation from Uyghurs, because they
know that at any moment, they can be disappeared. Darren already
talked about that. Rules for regulating how
people behave in public. For example, this sign which
says you cannot pray in public. Monitoring of the mosques,
which is then where you should pray ostensibly. But of course, if you
do pray in the mosque, then you fill out
the kind of forms that Darren was talking about. Your score drops on how much of
a trustworthy person you are. And it means that
Uyghurs are more– what’s the right word– apparently enthusiastically
participating in so-called ethnic
unity programs, where they are compelled
to interact with Han fellow citizens in kind of
constrained, artificial events. The most extreme version of this
is the Becoming Family Program, in which, according to
Chinese state media, over one million public
employees in China, Han ethnicity,
Han majority, have been sent into Uyghur
homes to become fictive family with them. And when they’re there,
they monitor them. They keep notes
on their behavior. And in many cases, as Darren
Byler’s work has shown, test them, by doing
things like offering them alcohol, and seeing if they
wince when they take it. And here, you can
see an image of that. And even going so far as to
sleep in their beds with them. A point that proceeds from
this, which I think is relevant to the academic community,
which we need to think about carefully and systematically,
is that this is a situation in workers in which Uyghurs
cannot give consent. And this is important
for people who are thinking about doing
research in Xinjiang for university
programs that have collaborative efforts
with partners in China who engage in research
programs in Xinjiang. And it’s something I think
is worth reviewing in our, for example,
institutional review boards for research projects. There needs to be some special
consideration for Xinjiang, which looks– has many of the
characteristics that make research in prisons kind
of a red flag for IRB research review– namely, the
inability to consent. One other thing I want to– my last of my three
general points is that I often get the question
of, why are they doing this? What is the end goal? What do the leaders in the CCP
have in mind for this system? Where are they heading? Obviously, we can’t know that. More importantly, I
don’t think they know. No one can predict what to
what purposes these camps will be put in five years. And we know historically that
when large infrastructure is built to imprison
lots of people based on their ethnicity, that
often the goals of those camps can change. For which reason, I think we
need to keep our eyes open for the possibility of– there doesn’t seem to be a goal
of mass killing at the moment. But that does not mean
that can’t be something that might emerge later. All right. I think I have a
few minutes left, with which I will take
advantage of this moment, where I think there are a
fair number of Uyghurs who are in the audience. And also– oh, this
is the wrong one. This is the source of
the now famous image. A story that was passed
around on WeChat, and promoted by a
government bureau. But since the
Facebook stream will have a lot of Uyghurs
watching, I think, I want to introduce
a website that has been generously designed
by a company in Germany called Enlightenment,
which does kind of a mix of database
construction and political consulting. And this website is
designed to allow Uyghurs to report on missing
friends and family members. The web addresses
is izdeymiz.org. It’s the [INAUDIBLE]
we are searching. I-z-d-e-y-m-i-z dot org. And you’ll see an incredible
database project later today by Gene Bunin, which
is designed to collect the testimonies of people
who’ve been in the camps, and people whose relatives
have been sent to the camps. Those are people who have
kind of stuck their neck out, and risked retribution from
the authorities in Xinjiang. And often, actually, that
has led to the release of their relatives in Xinjiang. But this database is designed
for a slightly different purpose, which is to preserve
the anonymity of the reporter as much as possible. I hope you all know that every
time you go to a website, it’s collecting all
kinds of information about your computer. And that information can
be used to identify you. So our security approach here
is to actually not keep data that we don’t want
to get hacked. So the amount of data
collected is minimal. And the user can actually change
whatever data is collected to protect their own privacy. And if you are a non-Uyghur
speaker, and you try this out and it’s not working, that’s
because there’s like a captcha thing at the bottom that
is a question in Uyghur that you have to
answer correctly. OK. I’ll wrap up there. And thank you all
for your attention. [APPLAUSE] ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: Yes, now
please have the three speakers at the front. We’ll have our Q&A session,
but only for maybe 10 minutes. So at this time, if
you have any questions, please come to the two
mics that are over here. And we would like to ask that– we only have time for
one question per person. So please give everyone
the opportunity to ask their question. So your time will be
limited at the mic. So thank you in
advance for that. So we can have our
first question. AUDIENCE: You talked about
there are some Uyghurs who speak Chinese, who in
the internment camp get to work on the textile. And I’m just curious,
what about Uyghurs who don’t speak Chinese? I mean, what happen to them. And I guess there has to be
Uyghur-speaking people sort of working– communicating with them
in the camp, I guess. Yeah, so that’s my question. DARREN BYLER: So
my understanding– and it’s somewhat limited,
because we don’t have direct access to the camps– but my understanding
based on interviews from people that have been
detained and then released is that the camp space itself
is a Chinese medium space only. You’re not permitted to
speak Uyghur in that space. The rooms that people live
in have microphones in them. And even in some of
the images that Rian was showing from the first
batch of propaganda images from that kind of
Potemkin camps was– you could see
microphones in them. And people talked about this–
the microphones are listening to us so we can’t speak Uyghur. If we speak Uyghur,
we will be punished. There’s also cameras
in most of the spaces, where they have kind of full
access and view of people. And even the bid reports,
they talk about this, that they need the
camera systems that will be comprehensive so
there’s no blank spaces. So there’s kind of complete
control inside the camp. My understanding from
people that I know that went to the camps not knowing a lot
of Chinese is that they’re– one of the main things
that they focused on was Chinese language
education, learning Chinese. And so you actually have to
pass Chinese language exams to move up into the like
most minimum security levels of the system. And then eventually,
you can graduate or something like that to
the forced labor internship program. This is sort of the
general sense we have. I don’t have a lot of
specifics about how all it works in every case. But this is the general
sense I get from it. Yeah. And you’ll be punished
if you do speak Uyghur. So, I mean, most people
know a little basic Chinese. But they have to
learn very quickly how you ask for things in Chinese. They’re listening to
speeches, oftentimes. There’s distance learning
that’s happening in some spaces. But they’re actually taking
Chinese language class everyday, for hours at a time. AUDIENCE: Thank you
so much for everything that you’ve said so far,
and for being here today I had a question about how– we understand that technology
has played a really important role in Uyghurs communicating
with each other, learning the status
of friends and family who are in these
camps across borders. Also, as you’ve talked about,
as we’ll see more today, the surveillance
technology is something which has the capacity to
betray people– to reveal these so-called
extremist thoughts, or something which may be
subversive to the state. So I’m wondering if you
could reflect on how people’s relationship to
their personal technology, particularly smartphones,
has shifted in how they’re– basically, how they’re relating
to intimately used technology. DARREN BYLER: Sure,
I’ll answer that. Thanks for coming. Good to see you. So my sense from when
I was there in April is that people now– especially younger
people have smartphones, and they’re still using them. But they’re using them
for political performance, in a lot of ways. Like on a daily basis
or weekly basis, you need to post political
content, showing your loyalty to the state. And so it becomes that
sort of space for them. Not having a smartphone, going
through a checkpoint where their smartphone is
asked for, is also looked at as suspicious,
especially if you’re of a certain age and
socioeconomic status. Some people I think try to game
the system slightly by having a dumb phone, not a smartphone. But I think you have to like– it really depends on your
social positionality as to whether or not that’s an
effective strategy for pushing back against the system. You’re right to point out that
the technology is both tracking people, but also enabling
us to see in real time how these things are developing
over time, how information is flowing around the world. And so there’s ways that we
can sort of hack the system, by getting that information and
getting it out to the world. And so that’s something that’s
new in an internment camp system, is having
security technology that’s integrated with the world. The market is also doing this
with the bid contracts, that are there to give us a trail. Follow the money. AUDIENCE: Professors
Roberts, Byler and Thum, I hope I’m saying that right– thank you. You have actually taken a step
that very few academicians sometimes take, in
relating to something that is as controversial
as the Uyghur issue. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I’m with the Save
Uyghur Project. The question for you is– let’s go back a few years to the
beginnings of the 2000s, when the Han Chinese are
moving in and they’re trying to develop the
area commercially. Typically, if there
have been no attacks as such against the
general population, you would think
that they would try to actually integrate the Uyghur
into economic development. However, the Chinese actually
chose to isolate them. Is there any aspect
of economic– what do you say– you know, essentially economic
genocide in this case, if I might term it as such. Have you been able to
formulate any opinions on that? Thank you. RIAN THUM: Well,
Uyghurs did not benefit as much as you might hope from
the economic development that’s taken place over the
last 20 or 30 years. It’s quite normal to
advertise positions and say that Uyghurs
are not allowed to apply for the positions. And in fact, in basic
manual labor employment a lot of the
employees were brought in from the interior of China,
or were migrant laborers from the interior of China. For example, if you look at
the old city of Kashgar, which was destroyed and then rebuilt
in a kind of Disneyland tourist type of replica of the
city, a huge number of the people who were
engaged in that rebuilding were Chinese workers
from the interior. So there doesn’t seem to have
been a concerted effort– despite a lot of government
officials’ claims that the opening up the west campaign
and the economic developments campaign were hoped to quell
Uyghur dissatisfaction with the state– there doesn’t seem to
be much effort put in to make sure that economic
development would directly benefit the Uyghurs. Aside from the benefits of
roads, expanded electricity– which a lot of Uyghurs
in the countryside have told me they
really appreciate, the actual economic
activity in creating those was mostly made
unavailable to Uyghurs. SEAN ROBERTS: And I think one
of the things that’s interesting is there was a portion
of the Uyghur population that actually did benefit
economically significantly during that period. And a lot of those people now,
I’m seeing them reflect on– people who are maybe
outside the country reflecting on social
media about their parents, and also people
I’ve met in Turkey– who are kind of dumbfounded
that now they’re being attacked. Because they were
kind of trying to– they were trying to integrate,
and they were benefiting. And I think one of the
things that concerns me is that in some cases– I think, you know,
if you look at what’s happening in some of the
presentations that Rian– some of the things Rian
and Darren were saying– it seems that these
camps and who’s interned is somewhat arbitrary,
and somewhat decided on the local level. And I don’t have any kind
of hard evidence for this, but I’m concerned
that to some degree, there may be some
people that actually have significant
amount of property who end up getting interned. And that property may be
going to other sources, possibly in the
local government. And so we might be seeing
at least on the local level, not necessarily centrally
planned, some sort of land grab also involved in this. AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. I’m Dennis. I’m Fulbright visiting
researcher from Slovenia, former Yugoslavia. I have like two short
questions, so sorry for that. If you can compare the
situation in Uyghuristan with what was going
on in Tibet, and also if you want to compare
the camps after the war– was this like similar
to what is going on now? And the third part
is also how can you compare also what is going on
with Uyghurs and Hui Chinese? Is there some similarities? But for my research
focus is most important, I am thinking about
how Han Chinese think about this, if you go
outside the propaganda? Do they have
information about what is going on in Uyghuristan? Or is this also
the question of– I don’t know– big
minority of the Chinese, not know what was going
on in Tiananmen Square? Something like that? Even when, I don’t know, if
Chinese come here to study– maybe you talk with how
they feel about this. Is this like, they
feel like this is an attack on their ethnicity
or on their country when you’re talking about those
things, because of the lack of the informations? Thank you very much. RIAN THUM: I’ll talk
about the Hui and leaders. Islam is generally seen
by the party in China as a foreign religion,
and explicitly in policy proclamations,
as a religion in need of synthesization,
of transforming to be more Chinese. And that policy not only affects
the Uyghurs, but also the Hui, which is the ethnic group
distinguished from the Han most by their practice of Islam. They’re Chinese speaking
for the most part. And so we’ve seen some
increasing pressure on the Hui. And Hui people in some parts
of China are quite nervous. It’s ranged from
the widespread– what’s the right word– not demolition, but the
transformation of mosques. They’re taking the
domes off of mosques. And then in some cases, even
rebuilding the minarets to look like what the state views as
truly Chinese architecture. A river has been
renamed in [INAUDIBLE].. But even in Beijing, there was
a closure of a very important Islamic bookstore. There have been closures of
some mosques in [INAUDIBLE].. So this is– the government’s
nervousness about Islam in general, which is supported
by widespread Islamophobia online that often takes the
form of han netizens complaining about things being called halal
or ritually pure by Muslims. So yeah, the Hui are
nervous, but they have a long-standing reputation
as being closer to the majority ethnic group and therefore more
trustworthy than the Uyghurs. It’s a mix of racism
and Islamophobia that results in stronger
attention to the Uyghurs, but also some on the Hui. DARREN BYLER: And just to
speak quickly about the way Han people in other parts of
China view this, in general, people in China
don’t know the extent of what’s happening there. They may have heard that
there is more security, that Xinjiang is now safe and
so they can go there to travel. That’s something I hear from my
own students and their parents talking about Xinjiang. But in general, I
don’t think they understand the extent
to which people have been taken to camps. They think it’s
exaggerated by the West. And they think the
camps themselves are not camps but actually schools. Even in Xinjiang
itself, Han people were telling me that
they don’t know really what’s going on in
those camps, or they would call them schools. But they did understand
that it’s punishment, that they must have done
something to go to the camp. And so they do have a sense,
to some extent, that there is something going on in
terms of a criminal justice kind of positioning
or a criminal– it’s a carceral
system, but not– they can’t speak
freely about it, and so they don’t really
have a sense of it. Others though,
especially people that are involved in the system,
see it as a benefit to them, that now finally the Xinjiang
problem is being resolved, the Uyghurs are being
tamed by this system, and they see it as a success. They like the technology also. They see the technology
as cutting edge, and it means that China is
advancing and really protecting their interests. ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: All right. At this time, I
think we’re short. JOHN TIRMAN: Let’s
thank the panel. ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: Thank you. So for the next hour, we will
hear three talks focusing more on the theme of technology. And first, we will have Ms.
Jessica Batke, whose articles on the crisis I read
almost religiously, I would say, in recent
years to get a better grasp of the scale of the crisis. Next, we will have Mr. Gene
Bunin, whose absolute devotion to the humanitarian catastrophe,
as he would call it, gives hope to everyone that
humanity will triumph one day. Then, we will hear
from Professor Joi Ito, whose wisdom and
curiosity in regards to education, technology,
and humanity left me in awe in every single
conversation we’ve ever had. And without further ado, please
welcome Ms. Jessica Batke. [APPLAUSE] JESSICA BATKE: Hi, everyone. Thanks again for having me here. And I hope now that
you’re fed and watered, we’re ready for a session two. I’m here to talk
a little bit more about the evidentiary basis
for what we know about what’s happening in the Uyghur region. And Rian already talked
to a lot about this. But I’ll just say
part of the reason that we have to have
this conversation is because the Chinese
government has made it very difficult to know
firsthand what’s happening in a lot of these places. It’s really hard for independent
researchers or journalists to get in there and do
independent investigative reporting. But despite that, there are a
number of means at our disposal that allow us to
understand the scale and scope of this mass
incarceration campaign, and indeed be very confident
that it’s actually happening. As Zuli said at the beginning,
it’s not a controversy. It’s actually happening. So what are the things
from which we can draw evidence and estimates? And Rian already talked
about one of those, and that’s the
government say-so. That’s what they’re
telling us themselves. So that includes the
procurement documents that he showed you, and
also their own propaganda. These documents, though,
have allowed us– have led us to another
really important means for understanding the scale and
the scope of what’s happening, and that is satellite imagery. So these notices, these
procurement notices or tender notices, a lot of times will
give a very specific location for where they’d like
to build a facility. And so that allows
researchers to go on Google Earth or other
satellite imagery programs and look at those
locations over time. Has this location changed? How so? When? What was there before? What’s there now? And what are some
visual markers that we can look for in these
satellite images to understand what it is
that we’re actually seeing? Are there things that
we can see that indicate that this is a place that
people are being held against their will and not
just some vocational education school? So this first example
is from a BBC report, and it’s a really
striking example because it’s basically
constructed out of whole cloth. You can see this
is from July 2015. It’s a pretty empty site. And then, by April 2018, you
have this facility there. The BBC reporters who were
doing this actually did go– this facility is about
an hour outside of Urumqi. They went there. They tried to go. They of course were
not allowed to go in. But what they did
once they were in town was just cold call a bunch
of random local businesses and ask them what
was there, and people did in fact say it’s
re-education school. One person said, “Yes,
that’s a re-education school. There are tens of thousands
of people there now. They have some problems
with their thoughts.” In case there’s any question
what a re-education school is. And then, this is– so this is the same
facility in April 2018. And it’s not just that
they’re being built, but they’re constantly
being expanded. This image isn’t
quite as good, but you can see it’s much larger. And that’s just from
April to October. And Darren already talked
about how some of these are also having factories
added onto them. So it’s not just that these
camps are appearing out of nowhere, but that they’re
always being expanded, or at least some of them are. So those are new facilities. In other cases,
the government has appropriated facilities that
were already in existence and modified them to make them
suitable for incarcerating people. This comes from Shawn Zhang,
who is a law student in Canada. He’s done a lot of amazing
research on satellite imagery. And you can see this
is in [INAUDIBLE],, and this is in 2017 on the left,
and then 2018 on the right. And you can see that
this sports field’s been covered over with
buildings which are likely– they could be dorms for inmates. And again, he knows
that this is a facility because there was a
procurement notice put up asking for bids to do
construction in this location. So let’s talk a little bit
more about what lets people know, besides– or at least confirm
from the– once you’ve got the location from
the procurement notices, how can you confirm maybe
that this is a site? Two of the most really
obvious visual markers that people are relying on
are watchtowers and razor wire fences. And you can see these. You can see the shadow
of the watchtower down there at the bottom. And an image– this is again
from Shawn Zhang’s research. Interestingly, there
was a really good report I recommend everyone
take a look at, came out yesterday by Bloomberg. And reporters were taken on a
tour of a re-educate facility– so-called re-education facility. And of course, the reporters
were shown a very happy place where people were learning
lots of great life skills. But really interestingly,
if you looked at satellite images of
that camp last year, you saw watchtowers
and razor wire fences. And just before
the reporters were allowed to go in for
this visit, there were no watchtowers
and razor wire fences. So it remains to be seen
whether that is something that’s going to happen across
these facilities now that the Chinese
government knows that outside researchers
are using these as markers to determine the nature
of these facilities, or if that’s just
something that’s temporary that was done for this
particular set of reporters. We don’t know yet. So just looking at the satellite
images, experts and academics have been able to make
estimates about how many people could plausibly be held
in these locations. So this is back to this
example from the beginning, Dabancheng outside Urumqi. The BBC consulted
several teams of experts with relevant expertise,
and they came up with estimates of
how many people they thought that this
facility could hold. And on in the low
end, it was 11,000. That number is as large as– is on par with the
largest prisons on Earth. And that assumes that
each inmate would have their own sleeping quarters. From a lot of
witness testimony, we know that’s probably
not the case. And in fact, one of the experts
said that 11,000 is likely a significant underestimate. The large– the high end of
the estimate 130,000 detainees. And that assumes that people
are being housed in dormitories. So we don’t really know. And as we know– as you can see, this is not
a very precise estimate. But if you have this
kind of capacity, you really don’t need a
lot of these facilities to start approaching being
able to hold a million people– incarcerate a million people. Oh. Sorry. In a separate analysis, the
Australian Strategic Policy Institute, they also went
and analyzed 28 facilities, again looking from
satellite images. And they saw that just
in those 28 facilities there was 2.7 million square
meters of floor space. And again, not all
camps are the same size. They’re not all that big. But really, if you have
something like that, you don’t need a ton
of those before you’re able to start incarcerating
the million figure that people have been citing. So we have the government
telling you themselves what these things are. We have satellite imagery. And we also have
extrapolation based on reporting on the
ground and interviews with people on the ground. So two case studies have
independently, or at least as of last year
independently, arrived at around one million
people being incarcerated in these facilities. The first estimate is from the
German scholar Adrian Zenz, who Rian mentioned earlier. There was a document
that was purportedly leaked from public security
authorities in Xinjiang and made its way
to Newsweek Japan. This is part of
it, not all of it. This shows the counties
here on the left, and then this gray column is the
number of people incarcerated in each of those places. And it said that there
was nearly 900,000 people incarcerated in 68 counties
in Xinjiang as of spring 2018. But this is not a
complete data set. It was missing a number of
large population centers. So what Zenz did was
he used the figures that were available here to
generate an estimated detention rate. And he generated one
estimated detention rate for areas that are
proportionately high in ethnic
minority population, and a different
detention rate for areas that have a higher
percentage of Han population, on the assumption that
in areas where there’s more ethnic minorities,
you’re going to see a higher rate of incarceration. So he used this
estimate and applied it across Xinjiang, which
include the places that were not in this data set. He came up with about a
10% incarceration rate in minority majority areas
and 5% in Han majority areas. And so he used that to generate
an estimate of how many people are going to be– were incarcerated at that time. And he came up with the
figure you can see there– anywhere between
several hundred thousand and just over one million. Now, he’s since updated
this, just last month I think, up to 1.5 million. And as you can see,
that’s nearly one in six people, adult members
of the ethnic minority community in Xinjiang. He updated this estimate based
on satellite images and witness testimony. And the second
estimate that we have– similarly, it’s an extrapolative
estimate done by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders. They called people
throughout 2017 and 2018. They called eight
different villages in southern Xinjiang,
southern Xinjiang having a higher percentage of
ethnic minority populations. And these were the
estimates that they got from those interviewees
how many people were detained in their villages. So they used those to
estimate detention rates. And again, they ended up around
one million as an estimate for the entire province
of people being detained. And that includes
people that are incarcerated around the clock. That number does
not include people that are attending
daytime or evening time re-education sessions. And even work that
doesn’t go this far, people that aren’t necessarily
generating detention– or region-wide detention
estimates, they’re still– as was mentioned earlier, people
reporting detention quotas in different areas. So Radio Free Asia, as Rian
mentioned, cold calls people. They’ve done a lot of really
great reporting on this. And they have reported
in various areas that local officials
have told them that they have a 10% detention
quota that they have to meet. They have to detain 10% of
the people in that area. One person said 40%. So these are all in
line with each other. Reporting that we’re hearing
from independent sources all point to this
general figure, at least as of last year. And as I mentioned
earlier, these are not precise estimates. It’s incredibly hard to be
precise because people are not allowed to go in and
ask questions and do independent investigations. But I think that
they are credible. And I would also point to
State Department estimates. In March of this year,
the State Department said that 800,000 to possibly
more than 2 million Uyghurs have been or are being held. The problem with the State
Department estimates, of course, is that we can’t
see the math behind them. We don’t know what
they’re based on. I am really biased. I used to work there. This is exactly
the sort of thing that I would have
been working on. So I tend to put great stock
in them, but that’s me. I’m a biased observer
in that case. Other suggestive trends. What other things can we
use that strongly support all the rest of the
evidence that we have? Another one is the
arrests, that we have seen a massive
jump in arrests over the last few years. So if you look
between 2016 and 2017, there was a 700% increase
in criminal detentions in Xinjiang. And both Chinese Human Rights
Defenders and Radio Free Asia report that at least
some of these detentions are the result of
people that were first held in these camps– which, as has been mentioned
before, extra legal. They’re outside the
judicial system. So people get
swept up in a camp, and then they’re
transferred over to the formal criminal justice
system for prosecution. We do not know how
many people went into the formal criminal justice
system through this mechanism, but it’s an incredible
amount of people. So even if you said maybe
only 10% of these arrests could be accounted for by
people who were first in camps, that’s still 20,000 people. If you think that
more of these arrests come from people that were
transferred over from the camp system, you’re looking
at hundreds of thousands of people. So again, it’s not
hard to start getting towards a million
people being detained is a very reasonable estimate
for what’s happening. Finally, another
very strong piece of evidence about what’s
happening in these camps and that gives us an
accurate picture of the scale and scope and really the
nature of what’s happening are witness testimonies. And that is what Gene is
going to talk about next, so I’ll leave it there. [APPLAUSE] GENE A. BUNIN: OK. So thank you, Jessica,
for the nice segue. I’m going to do something
very cliche first and thank the organizers. So thank you for inviting
me to come and speak here. It’s very rare that
I actually get out to this part of the world. Usually, I’m based as close
to Xinjiang as possible, ideally in Xinjiang, but I can’t
really go back there now, so mostly in Central Asia. But so it’s very nice to
come here to meet everybody and to see all of you guys and
talk to you about these very important issues. So what I’m going to talk
about today will be something that I’ve been working
on for the past, let’s say– more or less
full-time for the past seven months. So it’s a personal
initiative, and it’s my way to try to help put an end
to this thing that’s happening in Xinjiang right now. And were I wiser, I probably
would have started this, I don’t know, a year earlier. Or maybe, were I
really wise, I probably would have started taking
photos of IDs of people that I met in Xinjiang
maybe 10 years earlier and just storing them so I could
then later know who they were in case they were detained. But alas, still better
late than never. So basically, this
is my project. It’s– well, hopefully
it will be “our project,” quote-unquote, as more and
more people get involved. But it’s a victim’s database. And it’s actually
the grueling work of going through the victims
who are in Xinjiang currently, in Xinjiang’s current reality
or were there at some point recently, and counting them one
by one and list– collecting testimonies about them
from relatives and friends abroad and building that
all into a database which is actually publicly
available here at shahit.biz. So if you have a smartphone,
if you have a laptop, and you want to just take it
out and browse and play around, you’re more than welcome to. I won’t be offended. So my goal here is
really very tutorial. This database has gotten more
and more attention recently in the media among other
people, but still I imagine most people in this room
probably have not looked at it, do not know how it works, or
don’t know the fine details. So I’m going to explain
that and also justify why I think it’s important
to have something like this and how you could use it. So before I do all that, I’m
going to try to confuse you. And so the goal of this
slide is to confuse you. But in so doing,
I want to impress upon you a very important
point, and that’s when we talk about
Xinjiang in the media and probably in conferences
like this, we focus on camps. I think Rian already
mentioned this. It’s not really just camps. It’s much, much more than that. But if you actually try to dig
into how complicated it is, it gets really ugly. And so I guess what
I’m trying to do is, if you want to
talk about and focus on camps, that’s totally fine. But at least keep in mind
that the whole system, all of Xinjiang today, it’s not
an understatement– sorry, it’s not an
exaggeration, it’s not an overstatement to say that
the whole place is really a big camp. So camps are one part of this. And this is like
pick your poison. By no means– I could talk about
this for hours, and every one of
these arrows actually has an argument behind it. And we could talk for hours
about every one of these arrows and what the evidence
for those is. I don’t have time to
do that right now, so I’m just going to
gloss over all of this. So the camps or the camp
system– because actually, there’s various types of camps. Some are lenient. Some closer to, say, prisons. The camps are just one part. Then, of course, you have
prisons, the formal prisons, which are another part. Another part that I think has
not gotten very much attention but probably should is the suos. And suos is a Chinese term. So there’s [SPEAKING CHINESE]
and these are like the police detention centers. And often, they’re
transit points, so we don’t hear about them. But often people go there, and
then they get taken to a camp or to a prison. And sometimes people stay
there for quite a while. And so these are
like the black holes. These are probably
the worst places in terms of things like torture
because their job is often to interrogate, to investigate,
to get people to admit crimes. And so these are
maybe the worst. This is where you hear the
worst of the stories that come out from Xinjiang. They’re often from this suos. And so actually, like
Mihrigul Tursun’s testimony, Gulbakhar Jalilova’s,
Abduweli Ayup’s. They’re actually not from camps. They’re from the suos. And I think that’s also
an important distinction just to keep in mind. But even if you’re not in
these kind of, let’s say, proper incarceration
places, you can also, let’s say, leave a
camp and go to a forced– some sort of forced labor. They can be a factory,
but there’s also testimonies that talk
about people being forced to work as security
guards, people being forced to work at the kindergarten. People who, let’s
say, are teachers normally to go and to teach
at one of the camps again. So there’s many things that
people can be forced to do. And that too is a
type of detention. Then there’s hospitals,
some of which are partially
converted to camps now. There are hospitals,
for example, where the first, I don’t know,
nine floors will be normal, for normal people and
for normal patients, and then everything above that
will be for camp detainees. And so that’s another
type of detention. Then, for kids whose
parents have been taken, you have orphanages. That’s a type of detention
because these kids have no choice. They have to go there. Then, on top of
that, you also have what I decided to call community
correction because it’s very similar to the way that
minor offenders seem to be treated in China in general. And that’s people like
drug addicts, for example. They are forced to stay
in their community, and they cannot leave
without permission. They have to go to frequent,
let’s say, sessions, meetings. And they’re constantly watched
to see what they’re doing. And this is what a lot
of people in Xinjiang are in fact under right now, is
a sort of community correction. So they have to
go to flag raising ceremonies, political meetings. They have checkpoints
on the streets. They constantly check
their ID, their phone, and they’re constantly
being surveilled. So this too is a
type of detention. This is probably the one
that most people are under. And of course, more abstract– here I really generalized–
but ultimate form of detention is death. Because in most, if not all, of
these other forms of detention, people do prematurely die. And that’s been documented. I think now in a
database we have something like 3,600
testimonies collected. About 62 of those are
people who are dead. So it’s about 1 1/2 percent
of the database is dead. So here, I just want
to say that when I’m talking about Xinjiang
victims and documenting them, we’re talking not about just
even camps or even camps and prisons, but all of this. So why– why is there– why did this
database get created? As I said, I would have
done it much earlier. But I guess the
most simple reason was that in the
summer of 2018, there was a rise in the number of
testimonies– quote-unquote “testimonies,” very informal
testimonies that started to show up from
friends and relatives on things like social networks. So these will be very simple. For example, a person could
just hold up a phone and say my, name is da-da-da. My father, da-da-da,
is currently being held in a camp
since April of last year, and I want to ask international
rights organization, I want to ask the
president of my country, to help me do
something about that. And people would post
that on social networks. And the problem with that is
that on social networks, people comment, and then people
like them, people share them, and two days later,
people just tend to move on and forget them,
and they’re not documented. So in, let’s say,
the late summer of– oh, I can’t go back. In the late summer
of last year, there started to be more and
more of these coming out. And so it seemed
like there was a need to do something with them
and start to collect them. And I just want to
point out something that’s actually quite
loud here is that this was in the summer of– I’m saying in the late
summer of 2018 people started talking about this more and
coming out and testifying. Whereas the detentions,
they started maybe in the April of 2017. So it took a year and
a half after people had been detained
already for people to start going out and
saying, oh hey, by the way, my father, my family members are
in detention, and going public about it, which says
something in itself. Now, there’s a lot of other
reasons that went into this, and I will try to
quickly gloss over these. I think the most
primary reason for why I thought this would be
useful was this inspiration, this more abstract goal
of inspiring more people to speak out. Because it’s very,
very hard to speak out if there’s maybe 10
other people doing it, because as soon as
you do it, you’re afraid that the
Chinese government is going to punish your relatives. Or the relatives who are
not in detention right now may be put in detention
because you went public about your family. But of course, once you
have hundreds of these, once you have
thousands of these, hopefully once we have
tens of thousands of these, it’s not a scary
because you just see this big pile of testimonies. You add yours, and
then it will be lost. And so it’s not such a
big step then to add it. And so that was one goal. Another goal was to try
to, at least symbolically, get the different ethnic
groups to work together. Because this is really funny. Again, we often talk about
this as an Uyghur issue. It is certainly not
only the Uyghur issue. The Uyghurs have
the most victims in terms of the absolute number,
but relatively speaking, things are just as bad for the Kazakhs,
for the Kyrgyz, for the Uzbeks, for the Tatars, and a lot
of these other ethnic– for the Hui as well– a
lot of these other ethnic either Turkic or
Muslim minorities who live in Xinjiang. But strangely enough,
often Uyghur activists you talk about the
Uyghurs, Kazakh activists talk about the Kazakhs,
Kyrgyz activists talk about the Kyrgyz,
and there’s not a lot of, I don’t
know, shout outs, let’s say, in between, which I
feel like that needs to change, at least symbolically. This gives a way to take
testimonies from everybody. And in fact, a lot of the
documentation for this has come not from
Uyghurs but from Kazakhs. So about half of the data
base is still Kazakhs. And so this gives a way
to put everything together in one place. So [INAUDIBLE] is ethnic unity. Another reason was to give– get more people mobilized,
give more people a way to help. Because this was
a common question, and it’s still a question
that I hear, is– this is horrible,
what can I do about it as somebody who’s completely
out of the situation? And now, we currently
have maybe 10 to 20 people who are working, volunteering
or part-timing for this database project. And some of them maybe are only
doing a few hours per month. Some of them are doing
a few hours every day. And these are
people who probably would have been doing something
else, maybe not even Xinjiang related, had this not come up. And so this has gotten
more people involved. It’s also crowdfunded. So we run purely on donations. And I think we have something
like 200 donors at this point. And so again, that’s 200
people who, perhaps they wouldn’t know what
to do otherwise, who at least have been
able to help in this way. So that’s another goal. Of course, more concrete, this
is another– as Jessica said, this is another form of
documentation or proof. So in addition to satellite
images and in addition to the government tenders to the
Chinese government’s own press state releases, this
is also– testimonies are another type of evidence. It’s also a very– it has the potential
to be, and I think it already
is a very important analytical and investigative
tool, because if you’re a journalist, if
you’re a scholar, and you want to, say, search
about factories in Xinjiang, you can download
the whole database. You can search for
the word “factory,” and you can find the
relevant testimonies and perhaps find the
relevant information. And you can also look at
specific demographics. So if you want to look
at young Uyghur men from [INAUDIBLE]
for whatever reason, then you can also look at those
specific testimonies as well and zoom in and look
for things there. And the last point for why
I think this is important– and this was not
here originally. This was not something
I had in mind when I started this
up in September. But it’s something
that– because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know. I couldn’t really call– I wanted more people to
contribute testimonies, but I couldn’t say– I couldn’t tell people to do
that because I didn’t know– like, will this make their
relatives safer or will this make their relatives in more– would this put their
relatives in more danger? But I think as time has shown
now, China is incredibly– the Achilles heel of the
current Chinese authorities seems to be bad PR. And they react very,
very badly and very, very comically when some of
these cases get publicized. So sometimes you’ll get people
released a day after somebody goes and makes a video
online and just puts it on YouTube saying, such-and-such
a relative is in a camp. And the next day,
they’ll suddenly get news that this person has
been released after not hearing from them for a year or two. And sometimes that seems
like a strange coincidence, but there’s dozens
of such cases. And it also allows
us to be a watchdog. So if you create– if you
file a testimony for somebody, you put it in there,
we now have a file. We can keep track of that case. And if, God forbid,
something happens to them, if they die for example,
we can also note that. We can try to publicize that. We can give that to somebody. We can give it to
journalists, et cetera. So like I said, it’s a website. shahit.biz is literally “witness
we,” or “we are witnesses.” And being a website,
this is a public website, so everything is public. You can read all of
these testimonies. All the names are public. All the Chinese ID
numbers are public and. That’s kind of the point. And so anybody can read
all the testimonies. Like I said, anybody
can export them and do whatever they want with them. And anybody can submit. And this is– it takes
maybe 5 to 15 minutes. I’m going to do a
demo at the end where I’m going to submit a testimony
in real time, so to speak. And I strongly
encourage people who– I’m sure there are
people here who have friends or relatives
who are in that sort of– in Xinjiang in some
sort of detention. I strongly encourage you to
write a testimony for them. However, that being said, even
though anybody can submit, the majority of
the content is not just people going on the website
and submitting testimonies. The majority is still
this grueling work that, let’s say, we do
and the volunteers do, that the part-timers
who work with us do, and that’s parsing the internet
for publicly reported cases of victims. So that can be through video
testimonies on YouTube. That can be through
social media posts. That can be through media, just
traditional media, and also NGO reports. So we look at everything. We find victims. We try to get their story. And we put them
into textual format, and we throw them
into this database. And that’s over 90% of the
current– of the database right now. I would like that to change. I would like more
people, of course, to go and submit directly. But for the time
being, this is OK also. So a typical testimony
looks something, let’s say, like this. So you have a textual component
where you write all the stuff. You write who the testifier is. You write who the victim is. You write something
about the detention. You write about the victim;s
current status if you know it. There is also metadata
component where you tag and you categorize the victim. So you give them
an age category. You give them a gender category. And that’s what makes
it possible to do all the analytical work,
the other component of this project. Then, we are not anonymous. So if you’re anonymous, you
can go to Rian’s, for example, database, like he explained. We are completely public. Again, that’s the point. So if you want to
testify, you have to put your full
name of the victim. And if you can, we
strongly encourage putting the Chinese ID
number, because that’s how you let somebody– that’s really how you can go
to, say, the Chinese authorities and point a finger at a
particular victim and say, where is this person right now? And you can’t really
do that if you say that, well, my friend
[INAUDIBLE] from Kashgar is in a camp. They’ll say, well, we have
5,000 [INAUDIBLE] in Kashgar. Which one do you want? And then they can pretend
that they don’t know. But with a Chinese number,
they can’t really do that. And so then, in
addition to that, there’s also
supplementary material, so video, audio, da-da-da. So here, I’m just going to
go and show a few examples. So the site is not
very beautiful. That’s also maybe
kind of the point, because it’s really more about
functionality at this point. But this is a screenshot
of one testimony. And here, again,
you have the name. Here you have all the metadata. And then here you
have the textual part. And then here you have
any supplementary stuff, which is in this case a video. So this is a very, let’s
say, bare bones testimony. There’s not a lot of
information in here, in fact. But they can also
be quite complex. So this is an
example of testimony that has a lot of
info, a lot of updates, a lot of multimedia, audio
interviews, pictures, certificate scans,
numbers, et cetera. And so I would like to submit
one and show you how it’s done. But before I do that,
I want to just touch upon this issue of reliability. So it’s not, at least
in my opinion of course, enough to have one
or two testimonies and say that these are facts. You can never say
testimony is a fact. It’s a type of evidence. But a testimony from one or
two people is not a fact. It’s just what people say. And we don’t claim
to do more than that. We don’t claim to report facts. We just report what people
write or say, period. So we don’t try to
extrapolate and draw things out of the testimony. So we just try to report
what people say, ideally. Of course, when you
have hundreds of these, then it’s up to you as a, I
don’t know, an informed reader to go through these and
make your own conclusions about what that means. And if hundreds of
people are saying that they’re doing
such and such, then there’s probably reason
to believe that they’re really doing such and such. That being said, even for
individual testimonies, it’s possible to
corroborate some things. It is possible to build
further on the things that we have in a
given testimony. So here I’m going to give a
very tragic and very almost outrageous example that
I was personally very skeptical about but which ended
up getting more corroborated and which made me a
lot less skeptical. And so this is a
testimony, again, for a Kazakh, Akyl Khazizuly. So again, this is a screenshot. The original testimony came
through these YouTube video interviews from his friends
and relatives in Kazakhstan. And I’m going to tell
you his story the way that they told it. So this is not me
telling you facts. This is just me narrating what
they themselves talked about. And so he was a government
appointed imam in Changji prefecture not far from Urumqi. He at one point was arrested. He was tortured. They say it was in a camp. I suspect probably
it was a [INAUDIBLE] It was probably a
pretrial detention center. But they say camp, so
OK, we’ll write camp. He was then– he
fainted, apparently, after 20 days of this. He was sent to
hospital for 10 days. He was released. He was allowed to go home. And after returning
home, I think he was home for only
two or three days, and they told them
that he would have to go back to detention again. And so this is where the
testimony gets really crazy, and this is where the
skepticism should come in. His wife, in an attempt to
save him from going back to detention, killed herself. So she committed suicide. And what happened
was, basically, she committed suicide. He didn’t know about it. He woke up in the morning,
I think on the day that he was supposed to
go back to detention. He found the door
of the house locked. Again, I’m just reporting
what people here were saying. He found the door
locked from the outside. Some neighbors helped
him get out of the house. They went in the yard. They walked around,
and they found her body in a methane production
well of the house. Ironically, this does not
save him from detention. What happened instead was that
the authorities came and they accused him of
murdering his own wife and sentenced him to
30 years in prison. Again, this is what
his relatives said. When I first heard it, I
was also a bit skeptical. This is the kind of story,
it sounds so extreme that– Xinjiang is quite
bad, but it’s not– it can’t be that bad everywhere. But what’s interesting is that
when one of our researchers– we have, again, his
Chinese name here– one of our researchers looked
for his Chinese name or one of our part-timers looked
for his Chinese name on the Chinese internet
and found first an article that he himself had authored
less than three weeks before detention
which showed that– it was a very pro-government
article by an imam. It was the right location. It was the right name. So at first, at the
very least, this proved that this person exists,
that this person existed. And then, there was
another announcement from the procuratorate
of how this person was arrested for murder and
was now being investigated. And so suddenly, this story
which at the beginning may have been very– sounded too– very
outlandish, did not seem so outlandish anymore. And now, to take it even one
step further, when all of this ends– And I don’t think
it’s a question of if. I think it will end. The question is when. But when it will
end, you could– and we have his address. You could go to this house, and
you could look– for example, is there a methane production
well in that house? And if there is, that
corroborates it even further. So this is an example
of one testimony and how you can
potentially build upon that with other evidence. So now, I will
finish with a demo. And so I’m actually going to
submit a testimony right now for a friend of mine
who was actually arrested two years ago. So again, the timeline
here should be amazing. Two years have passed. Now I’m finally submitting
a testimony for him. So this is somebody who
was arrested two years ago. And I couldn’t submit a
testimony for a very long time, even after I started this
project, because I simply didn’t know his last name. And that’s a problem. A lot of people have this. We might have people in
Xinjiang that we know, but actually, we
never asked– we never take pictures of their IDs. We don’t know their last name. We just talk to them
on a first-name basis. And so this person is– he was a bookstore owner, a
bookshop owner in Kashgar, which is this most Western-most
town in Xinjiang and in China. This is kind of a goofy picture
of the two of us from 2015. So his name is Abduheni. He’s retired. He’s from Kashgar
as far as I know. He was running
this bookshop that sold mostly Uyghur
literature after retirement, and he was running it
together with his son. This is a photo from
Baidu Street View of the bookshop still in 2016. And I think this is as recent
as you can get with Baidu Street View in Xinjiang, is 2016. After that, there’s
no fresh images. So here’s a photo of
some kids in his store during off-school hours. Here’s his WeChat
background photo. And so I found out that he had
been detained, that he had been arrested in November of 2017. I came back to Kashgar in
September of 2017 that year. The bookstore was
closed for two months. Then suddenly it opened. I was able to talk to
people who knew him better. And they told me that
in April of that year, he had been arrested, sentenced
to seven years in prison, and his son had been
taken away as well. His son was in a camp– so an open camp where
people could still come and occasionally visit him. But in Abduheni’s case,
he was in a prison, not even in Kashgar
but apparently an Aksu in a closed facility. And nobody knew what
was happening with him. And again, this is the
retired bookshop owner. So then, I also went– I have his WeChat. I looked on his WeChat, and
that actually corroborated it. Because then you
look on his WeChat, and his posts stop
in April 2017. And if you look
at his last post– if you look at his
last post, people who are familiar with
Uyghur literature will see this is
[INAUDIBLE],, so these are very popular historical
novels that are banned now, of course. But I think they were
already banned by 2017, but a lot of people
just didn’t know. I think, as somebody already
mentioned, a lot of literature was banned, but people could
still get it or sell it. And so he had posted
this thing where he said, I got the first editions. So the first editions of
these are very, very valuable because books like these go
through censorship and editing lots and lots of times,
dozens of times sometimes. And these are the
first editions. And so you say to
yourself, this is great. They’re clean. They’re in good condition. It was a sort of advertisement. And this was the last thing he
had posted before, I assume, he was taken away. So again, I didn’t know his
last name for a very long time. I couldn’t write a
testimony for him. But about a week ago,
a friend and I actually searched again the
wonderful Chinese internet, and we found the actual
bookstore in Kashgar in that location with all the– everything matches. And we found his name. So it’s actually
Abduheni Abdullah. And so now I’m going to
write a testimony for him. And so I’ve done all
the grueling work so you don’t have
to go through it. And so this is– I’m just filling in the fields. I’m the testifying party. This is my testimony. I’m not submitting
for anybody else. He’s a friend, somebody
I’ve known since 2014. Here I’ve written all his stuff,
including his Chinese name. Then, location. Somebody told me that
he was in– somebody who knew the situation knew he
was in a closed prison Aksu. Arrested in April 2017. For the reason for detention,
I can only speculate. But again, books were
probably the reason. But again, we don’t know
the official reason. Victim status– in
the prison in Aksu. I hope he’s still alive. We don’t know. And then, how did I learn about? I learned it from somebody who
knew the situation firsthand. And then some extra information. His son was also detained. And the bookstore is now closed. So having done all that, I’ll
just very quickly conclude. So then, if I go now
to this website– again, so here’s the website. I click on the Submit
tab, which I already did, and you get this form,
which I’ve already filled out with the content
I just talked about. So you fill out all the stuff. Not all of it is mandatory,
but I put in all of it. And then, this is where
you do the metadata. So age– I don’t
know his exact age. Gender– male. Ethnicity– Uyghur. Location– well, surprisingly
not in Kashgar but in Aksu. Detention type, formal prison. Detention time, April
2017, in that period. Detention reason–
I can speculate, but I don’t really know, so I’m
going to leave this unclear. Health status– again,
he had no health problems when he was detained, but of
course I worry about that. But for the time being, unclear. Profession– he had his
own private business, so I will put private business. I don’t have his ID number. And then, I’ll just
enter my contact email. This is just how– we don’t
display this information, but if we want to
get back to you and ask you for additional
info, other stuff, this is what we do. And then, if I had
any additional info, like pictures
which I had here, I can then send it to this email. So then, I submit the testimony. It says, “Testimony
submitted!” then goes through. And then, it is added to
the pending list with all the other pending testimonies. And this is another one. And then his should
be right here. So then, when I go home,
I’ll log in as an admin, for example, and I’ll just– I’ll check his testimony and
make sure everything’s fine. I’ll make sure
nothing’s missing. And then I’ll
accept it, and it’ll be added to this pool of– so it will be number 3,641. So that’s it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] JOI ITO: Hello. I’m Joi Ito, the director
of the MIT Media Lab. And I’m probably the least
informed about this topic of everyone here. So I’m very grateful
to, first of all, all the people who have
been working on this topic and for helping me
get more informed. But I’m broadly very
interested in human rights and the relationship
with technology and our role as Harvard and
MIT and academia in general on this topic. So I wanted to talk
mainly about that. And I think one of the
things which is not just true in this case but
true broadly, I think, is the role of technology
in surveillance and human rights
and other things. And I think we’ve heard
some specific examples, but I thought I’d talk about
it a little bit generally. And specifically to MIT with
the new College of Computing and this continuing
investment in and ascension of the
engineering and sciences and in the world in
terms of their influence and the scale in which
they’re being deployed, I think thinking about
the ethical things is quite important. I remember when JJ Abrams, who’s
one of our directors fellows– he’s a director, for those
of you who don’t know– he visited the Media Lab. And we have 500 or so projects. And he asked, do
you do anything that involves things like
war or surveillance or things that arm
people and oppression? And all of the faculty and
students said, no, of course we don’t do that kind of thing. We do technology for good. And he said, well, let
me reframe that question. Can you imagine an evil villain
in any of my shows or movies using anything here to do
really terrible things? And everybody went, yeah! And I think what’s
important to understand is that most engineers and
scientists are doing things and developing things to
try to help something, whether it’s trying to
model the brains of children in order to increase the
quality and the effectiveness of education or to use
sensors to help farmers with their agriculture. But what most people don’t
spend enough time thinking about are the dual-use nature
of the technology, the fact that
technology can easily be used for things that aren’t
the thing that the designers have meant to design. Now, I think there’s a lot
of arguments about whether– whose job is it to think
about these things? I would say if I took
the faculty of my lab and put them on a line between
“we should think about all of the social implications
before doing anything” to “we should just build stuff and
society will figure it out,” I think it’s probably a
fairly even distribution. And I would say, probably
at MIT, that’s roughly true. And I think my argument
is that, no, we actually have to think more about
the social implications of technology before
designing them. It’s very hard to
un-design things. And I’m not saying
that it’s an easy task, and I’m not saying that we
have to get everything perfect. But I think that having
a more coherent view of the world and
these implications is tremendously important. Susan Silbey, who’s the
current chair of the faculty, I was with her the
other day describing– so the Media Lab is a
little over 30 years old, and I’ve been there
for now eight years. But I was very involved in the
early days of the internet, and I was describing how when
we were building the internet, we thought, if we could just
provide voice to everybody, if we could just connect
everybody together, we would have world peace. I really believed that
when we were starting. And I was expressing
how naive I felt now that the internet has
become something that’s more akin to the little
girl in The Exorcist, for those of you
who’ve seen the movie. But Susan, being the
anthropologist and historian, said, well, when you guys talked
about connecting everybody together, we knew, the
social scientists knew that it was going to be a mess. And I think one of the
other really important parts of the learning with the
conversation with Susan was the extent to which
the humanities have thought about a lot of these things. History has taught us
a lot of these things. I know that it’s somewhat taboo
to invoke Nazi Germany in too many conversations,
but if you look at the data that was
collected, for instance, in Europe to support social
services was used by the Nazis then later to round up
and persecute the Jews. And similarly, I think– it’s not exactly
the same, but a lot of the databases
that we’re creating to help poor and
disadvantaged families are being used by the
immigration services to find and target
people for deportation. So even the databases
and technology that we use and create
for the best of intentions can be subverted, depending
on who’s in charge. And so I think thinking
about these systems is tremendously important. And at MIT, we are– and I think Zuli mentioned
some of the specifics, but we are engaged
in and working in either tech companies
that are working directly in surveillance technology as
well as technologies that could be easily used in these things. And thinking about
this is very important. I will point out that there
are whole disciplines that work in this. STS, Science Technology Society,
that’s really what they do. They think about the impact
of science and technology in society, think about
it in a historical context and provide us with a
framework for thinking about these things. So thinking about how to
integrate anthropology and STS into both the curriculum and
the research at MIT, I think, is tremendously important. The other thing I think
is allowing engineers more freedom to explore. I think one of the
problems with scholarship– I apologize for those of
you who aren’t in academia. This is somewhat parochial. But there’s– this
is a slight tangent, but I think last month, Eric
Topol had a paper that showed that all of the most impactful
machine learning and medicine papers that had been published,
none of them had been clinically validated. And so what happens in computer
science, you get some data, you tweak it, and you get
a very high effectiveness, and then you walk away. And then the clinicians
come in, and they say, oh, but we can’t
replicate this, and we don’t have the expertise. And it doesn’t of pass
over into this other field. And I think one of the other
challenges that we have is that, as we start to explore
this technology, a lot of our reward systems, a
lot of the incentive systems that we have for the
technical people, isn’t to explore the
social implications, isn’t to think about what
the other things are. And so you fall a little
bit short of actually getting to– well, what
does this actually mean? I teach a course together
at the Harvard Law School called the Applied Ethics
and Governance Challenges in Artificial Intelligence. And we have some
research in that field. But just to give
an example, we were looking at risk scores used
by the criminal justice system for sentencing and
pretrial assessments and bail. And we initially thought,
oh, we just use a blockchain and make it valid, and
we verify the data, and we’ll just make
it more efficient. But as we started looking at it,
we realized that, first of all, the whole system
was somewhat broken. And as we started going
deeper and deeper into it, we realized that these
prediction systems we’re making policing and judging
possibly more efficient, but that they were– basically, prediction takes
power from the predictee and gives it to the predictor. And so what you’re doing is
you’re trying to say, OK, if you happen to live
in this zip code, you will have a
higher recidivism rate, which is the incidence
of being rearrested. But rearrest has probably more
to do with policing and policy and the courts than it
does of the criminality of the individual. But by saying that this
risk score can accurately predict how violently criminal
this person is likely to be, you’re pushing the agency or
your attributing the agency to the individual when actually
probably it’s the system. And by saying and
moving the argument to the accuracy
of the prediction rather than taking a look at
the system and saying, who is the cause of this system? And it’s actually weirdly
reminiscent, if you look at– Caley Horan in history
is writing a book on the history of insurance
and the insurance and redlining and the way in
which the argument about insurance pricing– it’s called actuarial fairness– became a legitimate
way to use math to discriminate against people,
and took the debate away from the feminists and
the civil rights leaders and made it an argument
about accuracy of algorithms. And so I think one of the
key things– and so our– researchers that were
working on this, trying to make better risk scores,
have now completely pivoted to we should not be using
automated decision making in criminal justice, and we
should be using computers to look at the long-term
effects of policies and not to predict the
criminality of individuals. But one of the problems
I find, whether we’re talking about tenure cases
or publications or funding, is we don’t allow our
researchers, often, to end up in places
that contradict the fundamental place
where they started. So I think that’s
another thing that’s really important, is how
do we create both research and curricular opportunities
for people to explore? But I think as we
think about this, and thinking about
this conversation, how we integrate this into
our educational system, our academic process
is really important. And I love that we have scholars
that are working on this. But how do we bring
this to the engineers and the scientists
is something I think that I’d love to think about and
maybe in the breakout sessions we can work on. And I want to pivot a
little bit and talk about– I know there are people who
view this meeting as maybe provocative or political. It reminds me of
several years ago when we had this March for
Science when I was at a dinner table with a bunch of faculty. And I won’t name the faculty. And some of them– and I gave
a talk at the first March for Science. And some of them said,
why are you doing that? It’s very political. We try not to be political. We’re just scientists. And I said, well,
when it becomes political to tell
the truth, when being supportive
of climate science is political, when
it’s trying to support fundamental scientific
research is political, then I’m political. So I don’t want to
be partisan, but I think if truth is
politics, then I think we need to be political. And it’s not a new thing. If you look at the
history of MIT, or just the history
of academic freedom– so there’s sort of declaration
of academic freedoms I think in 1940 or so. There’s a bunch of
interesting MIT history. In the late ’40s and ’50s
we had the McCarthy period, where we were going
after Communists and left wing people
because of the fear of the threat of Communists. And many institutions were
turning over their left wing, Marxist academics or
firing them under pressure by the government. But MIT was quite
good about protecting their Marxist-affiliated
faculty. And there was a very famous
case, Dirk Struik, who– in 1951, he was indicted
by the Middlesex Grand Jury on charges of advocating
the overthrow of the US and Massachusetts. And at the time, MIT put
him on leave with pay. So he was somewhat–
he was suspended. But once the court
abandoned the case out of a lack of
evidence and the fact that states shouldn’t
be ruling on this, MIT reinstated Professor Struik. And this is the quote
from the president at the time, James Killian– “MIT believes that its faculty,
as long as its members abide by the law and maintain the
dignity and responsibility of their position, must be
free to inquire, to challenge, and to doubt in their search
for what is true and good. They must be free to examine
controversial matters, to reach conclusions
of their own, to criticize and be criticized. And only through such
unqualified freedom of thought investigation can
an educational institution, especially one
dealing with science, perform its function
of seeking truth.” And I think this is really– sometimes, many of
you may wonder why we have tenure in universities. And we have tenure to protect
our ability to question authority, speak the
truth, and really say what we think without
fear of retribution. There’s another– I’ll
just name a few cases. But there’s another
important case. This is in the early 1990s where
MIT and a bunch of Ivy League schools came up with
this idea to provide financial aid for low income
students on a need basis. And the Ivy League
schools got together to coordinate on how
they would assess need and how they would figure out
how much to give the students. And weirdly, the United
States government sued the Ivy League
schools, saying that this was an antitrust case. It was kind of ridiculous
because it was really sort of a charity. But again, then Chuck Vest– most of the other universities
caved in after this lawsuit. But Chuck Vest, the
president at the time, said, “MIT has a long
history of admitting students based on merit and a
tradition of ensuring these students full
financial aid.” Blah blah, blah. And he opposed this. And a multi-year lawsuit ensued
in which, eventually, we win. And then, this as-needed
scholarship system gets enshrined and actually
policy in the United States. So many of the people who are
here at MIT today probably don’t– actually, 50
years ago, if you– there is a great documentary
where MIT students and faculty are clashing, literally on
the streets, with the National Guard, protesting Vietnam. So MIT has been, in the
past, a very political place when it meant protecting
our freedom to speak up. I think more
recently, we’ve had– I personally, for example,
when Chelsea Manning was– her fellowship at the
Kennedy School was rescinded, she emailed me and asked if she
could speak at the Media Lab. I was thinking about it, and
I asked the administration what they thought, and they
thought it was a terrible idea. And they told me that. And then, when they told
me, I said, you know, now that means I
have to invite her. And I remember our provost,
Marty, saying, I know. And that’s what’s, I think,
wonderful about being here at MIT, is the fact that
the administration– so for instance, on
the Saudi issue, the administration did a report. It was a– I know there are some critics
of it, but it was like, well, we’re going to let people
decide what they want to do. And then, I think each
group is permitted to make their own decision. And MIT, so far,
in my experience, has always stood by the academic
freedom of whatever unit it is that’s trying to
do what they want to do. And so I think we’re in
a very privileged place. And I think that it’s not only
our freedom but our obligation to speak up and also to fight
for the academic freedom of people in our community
as well as other communities and provide leadership. So I really do want to thank
the organizers for doing that. I think it’s very
bold, but I think it’s very becoming of
both MIT and Harvard. And I read a very
disturbing report from Human Rights
Watch talking about how Chinese scholars overseas were
starting to have difficulties in speaking up. And I think that this is
somewhat unprecedented. And because of technology, I
think a country’s ability– and I think there are similar
reports about Saudi Arabia. But countries’ abilities to
surveil their citizens overseas and impinge on things
like academic freedom is a tremendously
important topic to discuss and think about,
both technically, legally, and otherwise, how to protect
the freedoms of students studying here I think is also
a very important thing for us to talk about. So thank you, again,
for making this topic now very front of mind for me. And I’d love to try to
now, maybe on the panel, describe some
concrete steps that we can take to continue to protect
this freedom that we have. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: Thank you. Can I invite all the speakers
to come up to the stage? Now we will have
our Q&A session. Again, like last time, we only
have limited time, so keep it at one question at a time. And yes, so just come to the
two mics that are on both sides. Thank you. You can start. AUDIENCE: Thank
you all very much. I’d like to follow up with
a question for Professor Ito, if he could comment
in a bit more detail on what he sees as
the implications of the surveillance state and on
the meaning of the accumulation of vast amounts of data, either
by states or by private firms, that is happening, as we have
seen in some detail here, in Western China, where all
kinds of personal information has been exhaustively gathered,
and an entire ethnic group, apparently, digitized,
effectively. And I think that the
reaction of many of us is, well, that’s just
terrible, but at the same time, we are aware that Alexa
and Siri are gathering– and Google, as Rian
Thum reminded us all– that every time we
get on a website, somebody is collecting
that information. And it seems that reactions,
in fact, can be quite varied. And some people feel
comforted by the fact that information
is being gathered, and they don’t mind sacrificing
some privacy for a greater sense of security. Others are more disturbed
or made anxious by that. It’s clear there is
no consensus on this. It’s also clear that
more and more data is being gathered on more
and more people in more and more places and will be
used in more and more different ways. This is something you
think about all the time. I wonder if you can
give us a sense– some people are
pointing to what’s happening in Xinjiang
as evidence of– this is where the world is going. I wonder if you see it
that way, and if so, what the implications are. Or if you don’t see it that
way, then is this an exception? And what are the
implications of that? Thank you. JOI ITO: Yeah. So I’ve been a huge privacy
advocate for decades, since really very early on. That was my first real concern. But it’s been quite a struggle
to get anyone interested. And so just the fact that
people are talking about it now is better than it was before. But like climate
change, I think it’s going to get worse before it
gets better, because there’s already so much data out there. And the Chinese
system is quite acute, but even in the
United States, there are huge troves of data that
have all of your location information from your
phones now being used by researchers and businesses. And even if they
don’t have your name– even if you threw your
phone away every 20 minutes, I would know exactly who you
were by where you went to work and where you woke
up in the morning. And so everything is
completely identifiable. And with machine
learning now, you can take all kinds
of random bits data and chunk them together and
know exactly who you are. And it’s your credit
history– and weirdly, because marketing is so
advanced in the United States, arguably, with the right
amount of computing power, you may know more about
individuals in the United States than maybe in
many parts of China. So I think the United States– Now, the question–
and this is why I brought up the Nazi thing. When you have a regime that you
trust or users that you trust– the France and the Finland, all
the data is quite transparent, but the government
and the citizens are in a fairly
trustworthy relationship, so it’s not so bad for them. I think the United
States is precarious. So I think it’s
going to get worse. But it’s only going
to change when individuals force it to change. I think people are more
worried about finding out– their spouse finding
out what they’re doing or something like that. And that may be the
impetus for change. But I think the biggest impact
that privacy or lack of privacy creates is a chilling effect,
because the minute you are unable to– as we hear from
the Uyghur conversation– are unable to, getting
back to academic freedom, speak up without
fear of retribution– I lived in the Middle
East for a long time. And when I would get a call
from a friend who’s involved in Hezbollah, I won’t take it. I won’t go to lunch
with them because I don’t want to end up in
some sort of list that would put me on a no-fly zone
when I wasn’t a US citizen. So I think this fear of being
profiled in a certain way will create a
chilling effect that will impinge on the
ability for democracy to self-correct or for dissent. And so the cost,
the political cost in an open society of the
chilling effect of profiling is, I think, huge. The other thing is, if you
look at Venezuela right now, they implemented a national
ID system that was, I think, licensed from China
based on their system. And so what you’re
seeing is you’re seeing an export of
surveillance technology from places like China. But you are also seeing
China importing surveillance technology from
American companies that are marketing to them. But the net net is I
think there’s going to be more and more of a roar. I’m on the board of
The New York Times, and we’re doing a huge push
right in the opinion section on privacy to try to get
people’s attention up. And I think once everybody
says we have to change– it’s possible technically
to create systems that protect privacy much better. And I think once we implement
that, we can increase privacy. But the stuff that’s
already out there is going to be
impossible to get rid of. And that’s why I used the
metaphor of climate change. We’re going to get a
big hit for the privacy violations of the past. And I think over the
next couple of decades, we’ll start to see privacy,
at least in open societies, increase substantially. AUDIENCE: Thank you
for the great talk. I have a question
for Professor Ito, but everyone’s welcome to
contribute your opinion. It is reported in New York Times
that some American companies are participating in
the so-called Smart City project in Xinjiang. And some of those companies
come to MIT to recruit . And it is also a fact
that many labs in CSAIL receives funding from China
based facial recognition companies. So my question is, how should
MIT as an elite research institute manage relations
with these companies? And how would senior
academic administrators like yourself and Susan
Silbey make your policy in a way that ensures productive
AI research being done while reducing if
not eliminating the footprint of MIT and
Harvard in the deterioration of the human rights
crisis in Xinjiang? Thank you. JOI ITO: So I think it ties
a little bit to my earlier point about academic freedom. I think it kind
of cuts both ways. So just as much as the
administration doesn’t prevent me from inviting whoever
I want on campus to speak, I feel like it’s not my
position to tell somebody at CSAIL or one of my
students who they can or can’t take funding from. However, I feel it’s
my responsibility to engage them in
conversation so they understand the implications. So I think it’s this very
important tussle between trying to engage as much
of the community in understanding what
the implications are, but then to provide
the freedom for them to make the decisions
on their own. And so I think having
this kind of conversation and actively engaging everyone
is tremendously important. And again, I think the social
sciences and the humanities have a lot to contribute,
so giving them a little bit more voice than they
currently have is probably very important. And also, having
campus-wide conversations about these things
is very important. But I would stop
short of then trying to, through some sort
of top-down edict, tell people what they
can and can’t do. I don’t know what others
feel on this topic. Thank you. AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is [INAUDIBLE] and
I’m actually working here at MIT for 14 years. So I’m a scientist,
biologist, originally from Almaty, Kazakhstan. But I do have my relatives
back in the homeland in Xinjiang area. I don’t want to
call it as Xinjiang. I want to call it
as East Turkistan. And then my great-grandmother’s
two sisters are there, and I have relatives
that we happened to meet. And then, after meeting
for from so many years when Soviet Union
did not allow us to meet our relatives
in the homeland, and finally when we met and we
got to know each other, and now we have been broken apart again. So as a scientist here, and
I’m becoming an activist, I’m asking everyone who is
an expert in this field, what could use advise to me
and to many thousands if not millions of
Uyghurs activists who have relatives in
there and we lost contact? What can you advise us to do? I want to do something
to stop these atrocities. I want to actions. So I know that the US government
has a bill on the floor, haven’t been yet discussed
or it will be this summer. And the bill nickname is Uyghur
Human Act Policy Act of 2019. And we have– up
to today, we only have 28 senators
have been signed this bill, and 53 congressmen. In order to get it into
the law, I need 51 senators to be co-sponsored and
418 representatives to sign the bill. And I don’t know this
will happen or not. I keep calling every
day at least 10 senators while I’m working to
co-sponsor this bill. But I don’t feel
that this is enough. I want to panelists
tell me what else I can do to stop these atrocities. Thank you. GENE A. BUNIN: I can take it. Is my mic still working? That’s a very
difficult question. It’s a question
that I think I’ve heard quite a lot
of times, and not only from relatives
of victims but also from people who are concerned. It’s very hard to
give concrete advice, and so I don’t want to
give you a concrete advice. But there’s abstract advice
that’s kind of concrete, so I’ll try to do that. I think, of course, what
you said with things like contacting senators
and speaking up, I think that’s
extremely important. Obviously, I’m biased
towards that stance. I think that this
problem is only going to change when lots,
hundreds, thousands of people start speaking up and making
people realize that it’s a problem, to the point
where people are going to be annoyed at hearing
Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz activists talking
about the same thing. But it has to be done, because
otherwise, people aren’t going to feel the urgency. Because especially– this is
the big tragedy, is because we– this big paradox
that’s very sad. It’s that the countries who have
the most power to do something about this are also the
countries where people are most isolated from this. So people in the US, most
people don’t understand. It’d be nice to take
them all, say, to Kashgar and make them feel what it’s
like to live there when this is happening around you, because
then they would suddenly say, OK, we have to really stop this. But without having
done that, it’s really hard to convince them. But you can still,
I think, in part– that’s the first
part of my answer, is that you have to keep
speaking up in whatever way or form that’s appropriate. The other one I think is
the more abstract one, but sort of
concrete, is you have to understand yourself
better, and you have to understand
what your skills are. So we all have
different skill sets. Some are more introverted. Some are more extroverted. Some are better with numbers. Some are better just with
making great speeches. And you have to identify what
your skills are and think about what you can do. And the thing is, what’s also– this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this is
extremely, extremely scary and extremely
overwhelming because it’s such a big problem. It’s China. It’s all these reasons. But on the one hand, that’s
also that, because it’s so big, there’s so many ways
that you can get in it. So there are so many angles
that you can attack from. It’s really– For me, I can I can
just say personally, I’m somebody who also
used to be a scientist. Then I became a
scientist/linguist. And I was trying to keep
that up until last year where, in November,
I just understood I couldn’t because the more
you get into this problem, the more it takes
over your life. In November, I just
abandoned everything to just work on this. But I can say from
personal experience, it’s very easy to get involved. All you need to do is
you need to get started. You need to find an in. And once you start working on
it, you’ll find more and more– you’ll find that you have
way too many approaches. You have way too many– there’s
way too many things you can do. You don’t actually have
enough time to do all of them because the problem is so huge. So that’s another thing. I think probably a third
thing I want to say is that you also have to– it’s a mental shift. So a lot of people still
feel like they’re– relatives of–
friends of victims feel like they’re victims. And they feel like
they’re at China’s mercy. And I don’t think
we’re at China’s mercy. I think China’s
showing again and again that it’s very scared of
international reactions to this. And I think that’s– you have to make this
mental transition from being a victim
to being somebody who has the power, because
you have the power. You can help expose
everything that’s happening. There’s going to be a risk
to your relatives always. As long as they’re in
Xinjiang, they’re not safe. And you just have
to live with that. That’s very hard to
accept, of course. It’s like this horrible
prisoner’s dilemma, this, whatever, 1,000
dimensional prisoner’s dilemma, where everybody
is trying to somehow think, if I act this way or if I
keep quiet here, I can help my family, instead of everybody
working together and taking the most optimal solution. But it’s something that
you have to overcome. You have to just understand
that you’re not– you’re the victim,
but at the same time, you do have a lot of
power, and China does not want this exposed. And it’s not at
the stage yet where it’s just going to
brutally punish everybody. And you have to use that
to your advantage as well. So that’s my three points. I hope that helps. ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI:
And also, everyone should have received
a paper that has a outline of a couple
of nonprofit organizations that are currently
focusing on this issue. And so feel free
to check that out. And there’s also
actual campaigns that you can sign for
US representatives around in our nation. So those are just
immediate ways that you can get involved today. AUDIENCE: Hi. Good afternoon. So I have some question
to ask Mr. Bunin. And the first question is how
to make an anonymous donation to your database product. Is there a possible the donation
be stolen by Chinese hackers? And the second question
is about Atajurt, which worked with you in
[INAUDIBLE] has recently [INAUDIBLE] by
local governments. And what’s your comments? Is there any next step
for you to cooperation between you and this party? GENE A. BUNIN: Collaboration
with Atajurt you said? AUDIENCE: Yeah. GENE A. BUNIN: OK. So first part is
we have a GoFundMe. So you can go– there’s a link on the front
page of the database where you can click on the fundraiser. It’s a GoFundMe fundraiser. You can make an
anonymous donation there. The question is, do
you trust GoFundMe to be sufficiently secure
to protect your anonymity? I cannot vouch for that. So that’s– if you trust
the anonymity on GoFundMe, then OK and it’s fine. But there I cannot– if you want to personally
contact me and donate via PayPal or some other means
if you feel that’s better, that’s fine as well
for the donations. The second question, Atajurt. Just again, to give more context
for people who aren’t aware, it’s this organization of
volunteers in Kazakhstan who are originally
from China who’ve been living in
Kazakhstan and who have done an incredible
amount of work over the past year, year and
a half to document and expose what’s happening in Xinjiang. And actually, most–
probably the better part of the documentation and the
knowledge about the system, about Xinjiang, about everything
that’s happening there has come from them,
which is quite– it’s quite an
accomplishment because this is an unofficial group of
volunteers that basically got together and mobilized
people to speak up. Currently, they
were– the leader was arrested 40 days ago. He was taken. He is currently still
under house arrest. And they’re currently– they’ve
reopened a couple of weeks back. They’re working
again, technically. They have a YouTube channel. People can come in their office. People can testify. People can record testimonies. They still do that. It’s not the same
momentum as before. Personally, I will
probably come back there, and I will remain
there until something– it resolves somehow,
or at least there’s some sort of conclusion to it. But hopefully, it
gets going again. We’ll see. It’s hard because
currently there’s a lot of– from what
I heard, there’s a lot of Chinese pressure. So Kazakhstan– another
thing that’s very amazing is that so much information
has come out of Kazakhstan despite Kazakhstan being
extremely– the government being extremely,
let’s say, pro-China. And recently, there’s supposedly
been a lot of pressure on the activists from
Atajurt and on relatives of– on their relatives back in
Xinjiang, and also on just people who have shown
support for Atajurt or talked to Atajurt. They’ve also received a lot
of pressure to their relatives in Xinjiang recently,
based on what I’ve heard. And so a lot of people
have also stopped talking because of that. And that’s the Chinese
soft power abroad and Chinese hard power back
in Xinjiang working together. And that’s disheartening,
but I think– it’s hard to say for
now, but we’ll see. We don’t know. AUDIENCE: Thank you. GENE A. BUNIN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is Elden, I
was just wondering, on regard of how recent–
or not how recent, but how quickly these
camps are accelerating, the growth of how fast
they’re being built, I was wondering if there were
any future ideas of [INAUDIBLE] just proportions of how
large these camps could grow, how widespread they could
be, how many people, more potential, what
population of the Uyghur, just anyone in the Xinjiang
region, how many people they could hold, or just
a general consensus of how fast they could grow, how
much longer, and just all that in general? ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: And
I also want to just add, one of our webcast
questions that came in was also about
this question in the sense that they were asking,
what is the final solution? So any comments on that? JESSICA BATKE: It’s a
really good question. And I would say, as Rian
stated in the first panel, we don’t actually know
exactly where they’re planning on taking this. I don’t think– people can
correct me if I’m wrong– I don’t think they’re
building it the same pace that they were
maybe two years ago. I think a larger
question now is, once you have this set of
people which you have detained, what happens to them now? Do you hold them
into perpetuity? Do you force them into factories
where they’re laboring for you and you can essentially
keep an eye on them? Because essentially
what’s happening is they’re creating
an entire generation, several generations, of
traumatized citizens. And what do you do
with those people? Because even the people that
haven’t been through the camps are also traumatized
in a very specific way. You’re traumatizing
an entire society. And so regardless of the
absolute number that are actually going to be
held at any point– and I’m not minimizing
the importance of that– I think it’s also
important to focus on the impact on the
society as a whole. This is affecting
everyone that lives there. Everybody knows somebody
that’s been held, even if they haven’t
been held themselves. And so I don’t want
to speculate too much on what I think they’re
actually aiming to do. And I think a point
that was said earlier is I think really
important, which is once you have
these facilities, they beg to get used. And whether that’s in the way
they were originally intended or in a different
way, you don’t know. But you end up creating a
self-licking ice cream cone, basically. You have a bunch of people that
are in the security forces, and they want their
jobs to be perpetuated. You need to continue
to generate reasons to get money to get paid. And so I don’t know
ultimately what shape this takes,
but it is very, very hard to undo a massive security
apparatus that we’re seeing, I would say. So I know that’s not a
complete and satisfying answer, but I hope it fleshes out a bit. Yeah. GENE A. BUNIN: Yes, I
can add I’m not so– I guess I would say
I’m fairly optimistic. I don’t think they’re
going to expand and build even more of these
camps, in part because I think it’s
actually– my feeling is that this was a
very big surprise for the Chinese authorities. They didn’t think
that there was going to be such a strong reaction
to what they were doing. They probably thought that,
we’re going to do this. Some people will protest. Some human rights organization
will say something. We’ll find a way
to wash it away, and then we’ll just go on
and do what we want to do. But I don’t think they
were expecting this. And this is– you
see it, I feel– at least I get the impression
recently that there’s a lot of bipolar reports
coming out of Xinjiang, where some people– you have reports where
Shohrat Zakir, who is the head of the
Xinjiang whatever-whatever, he’s saying that
less people are going to be put through these
camps in the future. On the other hand, you have
these very nationalistic reports that say, the Western
media and Western governments aren’t going to influence
how we do things in Xinjiang. And so it’s almost
like things are– and you also hear very
different reports in the sense that recently there’s
been more, again– and here I can’t
cite concrete cases. I can cite rumors or things that
I’ve heard from people there that there’s been more
information that people with relatives abroad, for
example, are being released or being better treated. And so there’s obviously– that’s happening. But the same time, you
hear about more crackdowns. And it’s almost like
there’s a sort of chaos. You get these rumors that people
are now being released and sent home during the daytime from
the camps with GPS bracelets. Because apparently the camps
are running out of money. So you hear that as well. And my impression
is that they’re not going to expand that, maybe
for financial reasons. I don’t know. Here I’m probably not
qualified to say much. But at least for PR reasons. Again, I don’t
think they’re going to expand the system so
significantly because the world is watching now. But in terms of what’s
going to happen, the final solution, maybe– for me, it seems
natural that they would try to go with
the way that they went with the
Cultural Revolution when they had people
in labor camps. And then, when they finished
their sentences in the labor camps, that were released to
what’s called [INAUDIBLE] which is– its forced job placement,
which is basically what we’re seeing with these factories. Because it’s a way to transition
these people who have been traumatized in the camps
back into productive members of society. And I think that’s
probably another plan, is they want to throw
them back into the system. They want to find ways
to make them productive. But I honestly don’t know if
that will work because there’s quite a lot of– regardless of what they
say and what they report, it’s very clear
that a lot of people are coming out of
these camps either more radicalized or people who
weren’t radicalized before are actually coming out radicalized
and actually saying things like, I’m going
to blow myself up. This has been– this is
something I’ve heard. And there are people–
or there are people that are coming out suicidal. There are people
that are coming out with extreme PTSD or mental
problems or health problems. And this is going to be– this is a bomb. This is a ticking time bomb. And I don’t know. It’s really hard to predict
what’s going to happen. In terms of building,
I don’t think they’re going to build
more, but at this point, it’s a bit chaotic, I think. And I think they themselves
aren’t in full agreement with what they should do. So yeah, it’s hard to say. ZULIKAYIDA MAIMAITI: We’ll take
one more, one last question. AUDIENCE: Good afternoon. My name is [INAUDIBLE] This
question is for Dr. Ito, and this is mostly a request
to unpack your previous answer a little bit maybe. And also, I’d like you to answer
this maybe not just in context of MIT but the larger
research ecosystem that fields technology today. And while no one would argue
that you or anyone should tell MIT grads where to work
and who to work with, but there is this question of
setting of the larger research agenda when we talk
about academic freedom. And especially in the
field of machine learning, et cetera, while all of
this influx of money, resource– and it’s
not just money. It’s computing
resources, for example. That private
corporations like Google, Facebook, Chinese companies that
have a questionable approach towards the ethics
of these technology uses, let’s just say. When the influx of this
money, these resources is so strong in this
field, do you not feel that it has a direct impact
on the setting of the research agenda itself and
the academic freedom? So I’m just curious how you
see those dynamics playing out today. And this is also not new. If I may say so, IBM
has a long history of being on the
wrong side of things. And yet that has not affected
the willingness of the research community to accept
their support and money. And I work in the field. I know resource constraints. I’m just wondering,
where is this assurance of academic freedom coming from? JOI ITO: OK. So I’m just advertise
that I’m going to teach a spring course
that’s roughly on this topic, so if anybody wants to
do it, please apply. I think I would have to
go up many, many layers to identify, I think, a
problem in that I think capitalism and the markets,
the nation state, and democracy have served us,
big quotes, “well” to address the challenges
of previous generations. But clearly, even people like
Ray Dalio and Michael Porter have come out saying they
think that capitalism in its current form
has gone too far. I think a lot of the
challenges, whether we’re talking about ethical challenges
that lead to inequality, climate, health, are
because of our effectiveness in creating abundance,
efficiency, and convenience. And we really need
to rethink how resources are distributed, how
incentive systems are set up. And when you look at
the corporations today and how they’re governed and you
look at the technologies that are employed, it’s a
very natural direction considering the environment
in which they’re optimizing. And the only way that
you can change, I think, the second-order effects
of corporations optimizing for short-term earnings–
and the China issue is very related. The fact that I can
protest my students who are imprisoned in
Syria and no one complains, whereas
you’re at risk when protesting China has a
direct relationship to power and money and markets. So I think that’s
the core problem. I would say that the way we’re–
this is my personal opinion. The way that you change
these systems is not through winning an argument,
is not through laws. It’s not through
incentive systems. Not even, I think,
through politics. I think it’s by changing
the values of the people who are working in
these companies, who are the customers
of these companies. So it’s things like
Tech Won’t Build It. It’s like the Parkland kids. It’s like the
Time’s Up movement. I think that it’s going to– And I’m quite
generally more positive about Generation Z, which is
now 31% of the population. It’s the largest
population bloc. It’s the undergrads. I think Generation Z feels
disgusted by what we’ve done. And once they start
voting, once they start working in
companies, once they start sharing this
culture, I think it’s going to become almost
impossible to run the system in the way that we’ve run it. So one of the reasons I’m so
focused on education and higher ed is that I think we have
to have a value shift. And when I talk to young people,
even at MIT or anywhere else, they have a very
different approach. So that’s my long view. But to get to the
specific thing, I do think we have to
do everything we can. So I’m not saying that–
it’s like with climate. It’s both mitigation
and prevention. We have we to– and adaptation. We have to do both. I think we have to push a
cultural shift towards making these sort of short-term
commercial things feel disgusting, but
we have to intervene in every other possible way. But I don’t think that we can
solve some of these problems without fundamentally changing
how the incentive systems work, and that that’s
really how we measure our own personal as well as
our institutional success. [APPLAUSE]

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