Operation Dead Meat.

Boris Johnson’s game plan is quite clear. Brass it out. Throw as many underlings under the bus as possible. Try to appease his Party’s right wing – who are the force behind trying to defenestrate him now with a series of increasingly wild policy pronouncements.

The Morning after the night before.
  • Go to war with Radio 4. As if the BBC weren’t right wing enough, with their long succession of lead political commentators who either were or might as well have been Conservative activists (Nick Robinson was in FCS in the 80s at the time they demonstrated in support of Nicaraguan terrorists and sported Hang Nelson Mandela T shirts; Laura Kuenssberg has often seemed to act as a straight conduit for the latest line from Tory central office). Perhaps the success of GB News is what they have in mind. A channel with very little appeal outside the Alt Right bubble.
  • Deploy the Royal Navy in the Channel against refugees seeking safety. This is either bluff – sounds decisive, means nothing – or murderous. What are they going to do? Heroically open fire on dinghies full of desperate people? Or ram them? Leave people to drown or save their lives?
  • Lift Covid safety measures early. Having learned nothing from every other time they’ve done this in the pandemic. Latest government measures have all had this finely tuned “not quite just in time” quality. Cutting the isolation period down to five days from seven means that a third of the people concerned could still be infectious. But, what the hell, it gets more people back to work. Being “past the peak” is not the same thing as being in a sufficiently safe space to open up. Just as “endemic” does not mean that an epidemic is any less lethal – its just means you’ve given up on trying to control it. Current safety measures – however half baked – have case numbers and hospitalisations going down. Deaths are a lagging indicator and still going up (38% up from the previous week on Sunday). Letting them go early means that they will have less effect, which means that the rate of decline will slow and more people will die. A small price to pay for the PM’s political career.
  • Push a Red Scare. The bizarre allegation’s from MI5 that Christine Lee has been conducting “illegal” attempts to “influence” legislators in the interests of the Chinese Communist Party – coming from the team that brought us the Zinoviev Letter, Spycatcher and Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq – without specifying what she did that was “illegal” nor charging her with anything. In fact, Priti Patel has admitted that Lee’s behaviour is currently below the criminal threshold to be prosecuted. In other words, what she is supposed to have done was not, in fact, illegal, as claimed by MI5. How it differs from lobbying by other countries, some of them supposed to be allies, has not been defined. Nor why this sort of thing is illegitimate in this case, but not in theirs. All part of developing a Cold War politics of paranoia. Yvette Cooper has, of course, gone along with the government’s approach. Priti Patel has warned that we can expect more of these announcements and floated a change in the law. I doubt any of this will target attempts to “advance the interests” of the United States which are part of the warp and weft of the UK establishment – from the Trilateral Commission to the 5 Eyes Intelligence alliance – which makes the UK security services a local auxiliary of those of the USA – to the Henry Jackson Society and Uncle Sam Cobbly and all. This appears to be an attempt to make it impossible for anyone in politics, academia or the media to suggest that maybe China gets some things right, without being accused of being an agent or a spy; thereby closing down the range of debate and setting up anyone raising awkward facts to be howled down by enraged mobs rather than acknowledge them. The decline of once unchallengeable US dominance really sets us up for a delirious period of irrational politics.

It also beggars belief that, at precisely this point, Keir Starmer and Wes Streeting think that the thing to do is to ride to Johnson’s rescue on Covid.

Streeting – in an article on Labour List – put forward “Labour’s Plan to live well with Covid”. Yes. he really did write that. A real contender for the backdrop for Party Conference, or billboards at the next election. Possibly more memorable than Starmer’s latest “This, That and The other”. The irony of this is that Streeting is putting this forward as part of a plan to show that Labour aims to win the next election on its own merits, not simply be the lucky beneficiary of the Tories falling apart. Clearly, the statesmanlike thing is to show how fit we are for government by being as much like them as possible.

At the same time Starmer’s speech to the Fabian Society echoed the government line. “We need to learn to live with Covid. He went on “I don’t want a government ever again to have to place tough restrictions on our lives, our livelihoods and our liberties.” Ever again. From here. Regardless of what happens? Close your eyes and it could be the Covid Recovery Group speaking. Restrictions (which might also be called safeguards) only have to be put in place when the virus is left to run riot). An active Covid suppression policy saves lives and allows economic recovery. Let the virus evolve into a new variant – as it will – and we’ll once again have picked up the card marked “Return to Hospital. Do not pass Go. Do not collect an economic recovery”.

To be fair to Streeting, his proposals actually spell out that constant safeguards (restrictions) are the price of accepting that “the virus is here to stay”. Some of this proposes a sensible wholesale roll out of a serious testing and tracing system, ventilation systems in schools, support for worldwide vaccination, proper sick pay for those having to isolate – which concedes that people will have to – and but also requires a permanent volunteer “jabs army” to relieve pressure on Health Service workers – instead of recruiting workers that will have to be paid (?!). All of this concedes that pressure will be constant from here, as will waves of jabs.

By contrast, a serious position that rejects complicity with the government and sets a course towards active Covid suppression has now been adopted by the Socialist Health Association, and this should be discussed up and down the Party and through the unions too to push a change of course and defy this fatal fatalism.

Coronavirus Pandemic

We note that:

1. The Tory Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world, as well as causing thousands to suffer with long term health problems.

2. Its incompetence, corruption, repeated failure to take timely decisions, reliance on just vaccines and herd immunity, on top of its ideological neo-liberalism mean that it has utterly failed to protect the health and well-being of the people of the UK.

3. In October 2021, Parliament’s Health & Social Care and Science & Technology Committees’ joint report on the lessons learnt from the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic described it as one of “the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”; and the Public Accounts Committee report on the government’s flagship test-and-trace system said that it had failed to achieve “its main objective” to cut infection levels and help Britain return to normal despite beinghanded an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash.

4. The Government continues to delay its promised independent public enquiry.

We recognise that:

1. Vaccination, while essential, can be only one tool in the struggle to control Covid-19.

2. Those countries which have aimed at maximum suppression of the virus have the lowest death tolls and are suffering the least negative economic consequences.

3. There is no reliable evidence that it is possible to live safely with this virus as it mutates, and more dangerous variants emerge.

We call on the SHA and Labour Party at all levels to:

1. Reject the Tories’ ‘living with the virus’ approach, and instead support a comprehensive strategy to keep community transmission of the virus as close to zero as possible and ultimately to eliminate it entirely from particular geographic areas, based on tried and tested public health principles, including: An effective public sector local and fully-funded Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FFTIS) operation run by the NHS and local authorities, providing comprehensive financial, psychological, social and health care support and practical assistance to all required to self-isolate or shield. Continuing personal protection and mitigation measures including social distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing and good ventilation. An obligation for workplaces, educational places, hospitality, venues and other indoor public spaces to adhere to and publicly display Covid protection standards (especially for ventilation).Vaccine passes where appropriate. The right to work and study from home where possible and no requirement to attend the workplace unless strictly necessary.

2. Actively support campaigns and international efforts to tackle the pandemic on a global level through facilitating speedy vaccine deployment and production in all parts of the world In order to effectively campaign for this essential life-saving elimination strategy, we resolve to support Independent SAGE, to affiliate to the Zero Covid UK campaign, and to work with those campaigns.

Full English Brexit

In the ironically named “Planet Normal” Daily Telegraph podcast, truculent rosbif Lord Frost – AKA “Frosty the no man” – spells out the way ahead for the go for broke Tory right.

He has two main points.

Lockdown was a bad idea.

In that breathtaking way that Tories have of stating the exact opposite of the facts with breezy self confidence, he says that when the pandemic is viewed in hindsight, the UK has “come out relatively positively” but that the country will look back on lockdowns as a “serious public policy mistake”.

“Relatively positively”? Compared with who I wonder? With a death rate of 2,257 per million (and rising) the UK is 25th worst out of 207 countries. We have done better than 24. Worse than 182.

So, relatively positive compared with the USA (2,567 per million) or Poland (2,670 per million) Croatia (3,197) or Peru (6,248); but really grim compared with Ireland (1,221) or Kazakhstan (987) or Cuba (735) or Vietnam (364); let alone Japan (145) or South Korea (121) or Australia (101) or New Zealand (11) or China (<4).

The only comparable West European countries that have done worse are Belgium and Italy.

The countries that have done worst are mostly in Eastern Europe or Latin America; often countries that had a denialist leadership for at least part of the pandemic – like the USA or Brazil. The countries that have done best are those that have followed an active Covid suppression policy throughout the pandemic, like China, or for most of it, like New Zealand or Australia; or large numbers of countries in the Global South in which the average life expectancy does not reach the elderly age groups most at risk of death.

Please note the difference in scales between this graph and the European one. The Japan block here is far fewer people (151) than the Norway block above (258).

To get into a reductio ad absurdum with the country that has done best, for every 1 person who has died of Covid in China, 650 have died in the UK. Quite an achievement.

Perhaps he is less concerned with deaths – which disproportionately affect people who are old, or poor, or live in overcrowded conditions, work in front line jobs or are ethnic minority – than with “the economy”. As he says, “There haven’t been enough voices challenging the epidemiologists. There hasn’t been enough of a voice of the economy in this, [or] an attempt to get to grips with the trade-offs.” So, there we have it. On the one hand we have mass deaths. On the other, money to be made. As the Deputy Business correspondent of the Daily Telegraph put it at the start of the pandemic, a viral cull of the economically inactive elderly – sitting in care homes costing a fortune – would be “mildly beneficial”. Not something to lose any sleep about. With 175,000 excess deaths since March 2020, that’s that box ticked.

Had there been no lockdown early on, far more people would have died. The most recent waves have been blunted by mass vaccination. Vaccination did not start until December 2020. The only way to stop the first wave was to lock down hard. It worked. Even though it came late and reluctantly – with many Tories wanting to “take it on the chin”; in the hope that if enough infections ripped through the population quickly enough, the survivors would be immune by the Summer, we could bury our dead and move on. But a collapsed Health Service in the meantime would have scuppered their government, so they couldn’t risk it.

By May, cases were low enough that another couple of weeks could have had them in the sort of territory that would have required an effective test, trace and isolate system to keep them under control. Instead the government opened up too quickly. Resistance to school reopening from the teaching unions helped slow down the inevitable viral rebound, which took off apace from the start of the autumn term. The influence of people like Lord Frost in the Conservative Party stopped the government taking the necessary action before it was too late to stop another wave of mass infections, hospitalisations and deaths last winter.

So, unless Frost is rewriting History, or has a serious case of amnesia, it is quite clear that without the lockdowns in 2020 we’d have had an awful lot more dead people. Obviously “a serious policy mistake.”

He is also against what he calls “Covid theatre” – like masks – possibly because, as well as helping stop infections spreading, they are a visible sign of both the seriousness of the virus and an act of conspicuous social solidarity that shows there is such a thing as society (and that will never do).

‘Don’t rush on net zero’

As if that’s what they’re doing! Because there’s really no hurry is there?

He says, “I think climate change is a significant problem. I just don’t think it’s necessarily the most significant problem that the country faces at the moment.”  By the time it is, it will be too late. This is like the Veneto Regional Council voting against climate control measures minutes before having to evacuate their council chamber to escape rising flood waters. As for them, so for Lord Frost. Everything will be under control and normal. Until it isn’t. As he says, “I would not run at it. I would pace it a bit, if we must set ourselves this net zero objective.” IF WE MUST…get off our arses and do something, lets not go at the pace needed (7% CO2 reductions on an annual basis) let’s amble along hoping that someone else will take up the slack.

In California and British Columbia this summer, people in small towns like Greenville and Quincy would have seen everything looking normal until minutes before wildfires burned them to the ground. Perhaps Lord Frost didn’t get a look at the news during the Summer to see all those wildfires and floods. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed the melting permafrost and glaciers and the impending sea level rises. Or the droughts. Or the hurricanes and typhoons that are multiplying and moving into more “temperate” zones. Or the mass extinctions. Or the Amazon being on the verge of tipping into savannah. Still, there’s no rush is there and we have to pace ourselves…

What he is against is exactly what’s needed.

  • As fossil fuel bills rise because of rising gas prices, he wants to slow down the transition away from them. An argument that the investment in transition should not be loaded onto consumer’s bills is one thing, arguing to scrap them altogether is another. Neither he, nor anyone in the Net Zero Watch group makes the distinction.
  • He is against state investment in renewable technology (“picking winners”) because, unlike Deng Xiao Peng, he doesn’t care whether the cat catches mice as long as its privately owned. The record of leaving it to the market – when it comes to insulation and retrofitting for example – holds no lessons for him. At the current pace of insulation, 50,000 houses a year – many of them bodged by half trained white van men – we will have finished doing the 26 million homes the UK needs doing to hit net zero by 2050 in 2541. I’m not sure if that’s a leisurely enough pace for Lord Frost, but it doesn’t look like they are breaking much of a sweat to me.

As he puts it, with great precision “We’re bringing in measures that are sort of unnecessary, too soon.” He doesn’t specify what these are, but presumably he’d rather bring them in when its too late.

He is also in favour of using Brexit to go for wholesale deregulation of course.

So – the programme for a proper Tory government, with none of this leveling up pinkwash posturing: Freedom for the virus! Lord make me green but not yet! Take back decontrol!

Dr Strangelove or: How they want us to learn to stop worrying and “live with the virus”.

Conservatives are very keen on war time analogies – “Blitz spirit”, Dunkirk spirit” and all that. But in the war against the virus they are proposing to surrender. This is not their finest hour.

Omicron is still surging. Government figures as of 9/1/22 show cases up 6.6% over the previous week – with over 140,000 cases a day – and hospitalisations up 57.7% – with 2,434 a day.

The 7 day average of deaths is also rising and stood at 182 a day on January 8th. Up from 131 a day on January 1st and continually rising in between. There were 313 deaths on Saturday.

Despite this, the government has announced an end to the need for PCR tests for international travellers and is floating two extraordinarily reckless further measures.

  1. Abandonment of free lateral flow tests
  2. Abandonment of mass vaccinations beyond the third dose.

Dr Clive Dix, the former head of the vaccine task force is arguing that “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end” and – pinch me if you’ve heard this one before – that we should treat Covid “like flu”. Vaccinations should be restricted to the most vulnerable. So far, so Great Barrington. Deja vu all over again.

The problems with this are obvious.

  1. Covid is not like flu. It is much more lethal and much more transmissable. Allowing it to be “endemic” means accepting significant levels of deaths on a permanent basis.
  2. There is no “long flu”.
  3. Not being able to test will keep the figures down – in a rather Trumpian way – but not reduce the actual infections, simply abandon any attempt to keep track of it. Wealthy people who can afford it will, no doubt, buy tests. The people in low paid jobs who are least able to work from home, the front line workers, people who live in overcrowded conditions, in fact the people most likely to catch it and die from it – will not be able to.
  4. Omicron is not the last variant that will evolve, if it is left to do so.
  5. Vaccine immunity wears off. As does immunity from having had a previous variant. Omicron is already infecting people who are triple jabbed. Keir Starmer is a case in point. If he had a badge for every variant he has contracted, he would have an armful.
  6. Having no further vaccines, when vaccines are the primary line of defence being set by the government, means abandoning the line of defence.
  7. The Health Service is already under massive pressure with one in ten workers off work around New Year, more than 20 hospitals declaring critical incidents and 27,000 resignations between July and September last year alone.

Put simply, this approach means that we – and the NHS -are being thrown to the wolves by the sort of eugenicists who thought at the beginning of the pandemic that culling the elderly and vulnerable would be a stimulant to the economy (and no doubt still do).

Now the UK has had 150,000 deaths from this virus, this is no time to abandon the struggle against it. An active virus suppression strategy in China kept Covid deaths there to just two (TWO!!!) last year. Of course, if you listen to the BBC – or worse – this is clear evidence that the Chinese are mad; which makes you wonder just how sane we think we are.

This should be called out and firmly opposed by Labour and the trade unions. We need to be fighting for a zero Covid strategy.

Nadhim Zahawi loses the plot.

The Open Letter to Schools by Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi for the start of term is based on a presumption that the Omicron variant will cause mass infections and, rather than seek to avoid this, the government wants schools to adapt to it.

This is the logical consequence of putting business first; which requires a defeatist approach to suppressing the virus. If the imperative is not to suppress the virus but simply to have the maximum number of students in school so that their parents can go to work and relieve some of the pressure on businesses, health and educational considerations take a back seat.

Zahawi concedes that the situation is going to be bad. Lots of students and members of staff will contract the virus. “Public sector leaders have been asked to prepare for a worst-case scenario of up to a quarter of staff off work as the virus continues to sweep across the country” TES. This is the “take it on the chin” approach with avengeance. Provision of online or blended learning during the coming half term is not a measure to be taken to avoid mass infection, but a fall back position required by the failure to do so.

His last minute suggestions to deal with large scale staff absence have a whiff of barely thought out panic about them, combined with some attempts not to let a good crisis go to waste.

  • appeals to “former teachers” to return to the classroom; to be organised school by school. There is nothing proposed from the DFE to encourage this, or facilitate it, giving a strong sense of “over to you” about it. If this is to be taken seriously, some thought needs to go into who “former teachers” are – and why they are “former”. Most of them will be found among the third of teachers who quit within five years of qualification; so, addressing the issues which lead to this exodus will be needed if they are to be encouraged back in any numbers. Most of this group will be younger people who will have moved on to other jobs. Relatively few of them will be willing to quit a new career without some sign that the conditions that lead them to leave in the first place are being addressed. A comment often heard from recently departed or retired colleagues is along the lines of, “I don’t know how you can put up with it. Its only after you leave that you realise how much stress you’ve been under”. A serious discussion with the teaching unions about how the unbearable pressures on teachers – at the best of times – could be relieved would be an essential precondition for this to have even a marginal effect. There are also quite a lot of retired teachers. However, most of them are in relatively vulnerable age groups. Probably not wise to put a lot of exhausted rising seventies in Covid crisis classrooms; particularly given some of the other suggestions that Zahawi has sucked out of his thumb; which will determine what those classrooms are like.
  • Flexible delivery of onsite learning – with the priority being to keep the kids on site – covers a multitude of sins. “Flexible delivery involves utilising all your available teaching and non-teaching workforce to maximise on-site education for as many pupils as possible while you flexibly deliver provision either on-site or remotely to some pupils.” Nadhim Zahawi cited in the TES (my emphasis). Using “teaching and non teaching staff” means covering lessons by non teachers. While Higher Level TAs now often cover lessons in some schools in certain conditions, this seems to be a much broader proposal; that anyone who can be propped up in front of a class is fair game to keep the appearance of on site education going. The educational fabric looks set to be stretched very thin.
  • The other suggestion is “merging classes”. This is beyond parody. Instead of having 30 students in a room, you put 60 of them in there. With a Covid variant that is as infectious as measles. Quite brilliant!
  • Exams and OFSTED inspections are expected to go ahead as normal. OFSTED inspections for Secondary schools will be held back for the first week in January, but only to facilitate on site pupil Covid testing. Other than that, OFSTED Inspectors who “who are also school, college and early years leaders” will not be expected to take part in inspections – making the inspectors that do even less in touch with practice and experience on the ground. Schools affected by significant absence can “ask for” Inspections to be “deferred”.
  • Students and staff are “encouraged” to self test twice a week and the DFE “recommend” that face masks should be worn in Secondary classrooms as well as communal areas while students over the age of 12 are “eligible” for vaccination. None of this is a requirement. This lackadaisical libertarianism is described as a “proportionate and targeted” approach. Largely thanks to anti-vaxx influence in the Conservative Party, there is no current proposal to vaccinate 5-12 year olds, even though evidence from South Africa shows that Omicron has a greater impact on younger children that previous developments and vaccinations of this age group are now taking place in the USA and the EU. largely due to anti-vaxx influence in the Conservative Party.
  • 7,000 ventilation units are to be deployed, with no timescale set out. With 24,400 schools in England, that’s one between every three and a half schools. Presumably they are expected to share.

This half term looks set to be as big a mess as any in this pandemic, especially in schools. Zarhawi’s letter describes what “living with the virus” is going to look like. Not just this half term, but forever.

Instead of a determined policy to suppress the virus, with the sort of whole society mobilisation that eliminated domestic infections in China in two months in 2020, we have half hearted safety gestures (described as “proportionate” when “inadequate” would be more accurate) – apologetically introduced and slated to be removed as soon as possible as an affront to personal liberties – used as a cover for a level of social mixing likely to send infections soaring, with massive numbers of staff off sick – and doubled up classes covered by anyone on the payroll who can be got to cover them; giving the infection rate an added top spin.

The Education Unions will in the first instance need some quickly published agreed guidelines to stop this becoming abusive, but we also need to campaign explicitly for an active Covid suppression policy, aiming to eliminate domestic infections as the only way forward that will actually be a way out.

Update 4/1/22:

Joint union safety guidelines have now been published by NEU NASUWT UNISON UNITE and GMB and can be read here.

The NEU press release on the government statement can be read here.

Baby, its COVID outside.

The latest figures on UK cases, hospitalisations and deaths- released for 1 January – make sobering reading for all of us; but appear not to be giving pause to the Secretary of State for Health, who is doubling down on arguing that we have to “live with” the virus (forever) and the select breed of scientists in his camp, who argue that Omicron is a step towards COVID evolving into a “mostly harmless” “endemic” infection like the common cold.

The figures are stark – and do not support either that hypothesis or the government’s policies. The Omicron variant is now considered as infectious as measles, and it is capable of infecting people who have been vaccinated or who have contracted it before. And “endemic” does not mean “harmless”.

In the week up to 1 January there were an average of 162,000 verified new cases every day for England alone. This was a 47.9% increase on the previous week and is rising sharply.

Hospitalisations similarly rose by 49.9%, with an average of 1,915 new admissions a day, again on a sharply rising curve.

Deaths, a lagging indicator, were up by 31.1%, with an average of 151 people dying every day – again on a rising curve.

It is important to bear in mind that these new cases, which have baked in a following wave of hospitalisations and deaths, were picked up during the Xmas week after a significant additional wave of people getting their third vaccination.

  • Relatively few people have been at work.
  • No schools or colleges are open.
  • Relatively few journeys will have been taken on public transport.
  • There has also been an 8% decline in the number of tests that have been carried out during this week – largely due to shortages of kit.

Projecting forward we can sketch out the likely impact in two weeks time. If 2% of identified cases end up in hospital, we’ll be looking at 3,251 daily admissions in England by mid January, just from the cases already identified (2% of 162,000).

With a sharp increase in social interactions coming from a large scale return to work from Tuesday, and schools beginning to reopen, with no further safeguards put in place, we should expect the upward spike to jag even more sharply upwards.

On 31 December there were 154 deaths and 1,915 admissions, giving a deaths to admission ratio of 1:12. Extrapolating this to the 3,251 admissions expected by mid January gives a death rate of around 270 a day (or 1,890 a week); and rising.

There is an expectation that this wave will decline again once it has infected all the people that it can. But, as it seems able to infect vaccinated people, and people who have recovered from previous variants, it has a very large pool of potential victims.

By February we will know if this wave has receded, and to what extent, or if it keeps on going.

Allowing a virus like this to become endemic and not stamping it out is a catastrophic strategic choice that means that, so far, the UK has suffered 30 times the number of deaths as Zero Covid China in absolute terms, and 629 times as many people per capita – and will suffer many more, with no prospect of an end to it.

The argument a week ago was that Ministers wanted “more evidence” before taking further safety precautions. The evidence seems to be in. How much more do they need?

Brexit. Myths and Realities


This is the original version of my current article under this title for Labour Hub.

Tom Wood’s recent article on Labour Hub “Conceptualising Brexit” argues in a rather abstract way that withdrawal from the EU makes “Socialism” more possible in the UK; which begs a number of questions.

1) Why did a section of the ruling class want Brexit and what are they trying to do with it?
The ruling class in the UK was split over Brexit. Significant sections, especially in manufacturing, wanted to stay in.The largest donation to either campaign was to Remain from Sainsburys. The next four largest donations all went to Leave and all were from Hedge Funds.

The faction that wanted out was motivated by a desire to align the UK with the labour and environmental standards of the USA; as these are significantly lower than those operating in the EU. No paid maternity leave as a right. Lower holiday entitlement. “Cutting red tape” and letting business “off the leash” of tedious bureaucratic health and safety standards and overheads. Time for Atlas to shrug.

It was and is a class war initiative designed to shift resources from wages and social conditions to profits. An attempt to break out of the UK’s long steady decline and stagnation with a spectacular act of will that would mobilise and cement a section of the working class into a revived national project on deeply reactionary grounds. The notion that “with one mighty bound” the UK would shrug off its European shackles and boom off into the distance has not come to pass. In fact, the already deadly slow pace of business investment has stalled even further, as this graph from the FT shows: making temporary upticks feverish and unsustainable. If I were a patient with a graph like that at the foot of my bed. I’d be worried.

Line chart of £bn in 2019 value (taking into account an ONS error) showing UK business investment has underperformed the trend

As the projected economic benefits turn sour –with Richard Hughes of the Office for Budget Responsibility projecting that the long term economic impact of Brexit will reduce UK GDP by 4% – double the long term impact of the Covid pandemic -the ongoing dynamic of this is to try to keep this political bloc together by playing up the hostility to immigrants and refugees that was the dark soul of so much of the Leave vote.

A trade deal with the US, harmonising standards on their model, is still what they are after – perhaps to be consummated after the Second Coming of Trump (or one of his acolytes) after 2024.An acceleration of the creeping privatisation of the NHS, with US companies starting to take over consortia of GPs practices, is a precursor. Fire and rehire the bracing new model of labour relations, or so they hope. Such a deal will be entirely on the USA’s terms. Negotiations with the Americans by weaker economies tend to be short. The Americans write the deal. The other country signs it.

While Tom is right to argue that this was all overlaid with the delusions of restored British buccaneering grandeur and imperial nostalgia, and its apparent that some of Tory right really believe in this if Daily Telegraph opinion pieces are to be taken at face value; it was also instrumentally useful prolefeed, cutting with the grain of a deeply backward looking national culture, nostalgic for past imperial glories and fearful of the future that runs deep in older, whiter workers in “left behind” areas; who look at shuttered factories and closed mines and see national decline not the brutal indifference that characterises the care the ruling class takes of them, their communities and their lives. Sink or swim. On your bike.

Where he is completely wrong is in any notion that there was any symmetry in the pro Brexit faction in their desire to trade with the USA and China.“Glorious Global Britain” could no more be a free agent in trade than it is in military and foreign policy. Trade with China is now freezing into a Cold War framework; with pressure from the USA channelled by the right, and mainstream Labour, for increasing scrutiny and barriers to Chinese trade and investment – and even academic cooperation -on “national security” grounds. This is already doing damage to the UK economy in areas like 5G and nuclear energy. Keeping Huawei out of 5G infrastructure means using slower and more expensive Western substitutes. One indication of the consequences of this is that China’s very successful zero Covid strategy relies partly on a contact tracing App that actually works. None of those tried here works anything like as well. There are many reasons not to go nuclear, but the decision to exclude Chinese investment leaves an investment and technology gap that will be hard to fill; imposing additional costs on what is already a prohibitively expensive energy technology and a reliance on US or French companies notorious for cost and construction over runs and technical breakdowns.

What are the consequences for the UK?

Tom argues rightly that both the EU and the UK are now struggling for advantage; but the asymmetry between the economies means that this is a game of chicken between a British bubble car and a European ten ton truck.

The impact on the “home nations” is centrifugal.

The stresses in the North of Ireland are a case in point. The North remaining in the EU single market means that it has been doing rather well economically. The problem with the Protocol is for British based companies that now face additional paperwork, which has hindered their ability to sell into the 6 Counties. Attempts by the UK government to foment Loyalist mobilisations against this –shown by Lord Frost making it a priority to see the suits who front up Loyalist paramilitaries as his first port of call earlier this year– have foundered on three problems.

1. The majority of both communities in the North voted to Remain.
2. Virtually no one in the North wants a land border between the 6 Counties and the Republic.
3. The United States has made it plain that it will not support any course of action that threatens the Good Friday Agreement and is therefore backing the EU stance.

The political fall out in the North is that the DUP are in crisis, losing support to the centrist Alliance Party on one side and, more significantly, to harder line Loyalists on their right. In the forthcoming Stormont elections, other things being equal, Sinn Fein are set to be the largest Party, and would therefore take the First Minister position. Although the next General Election in the Republic does not have to be held until 2025, Sinn Fein are also currently well ahead in the polls there. There is a long way to go between here and there, and the UK and Irish ruling classes will move heaven and Earth to stop it, but either or both of these developments could put a border poll on the agenda; which could take the 6 Counties out of the UK altogether; and the St Patrick’s cross out of the Union Jack.

Tom’s argument that “Scottish nationalism has been undermined” by Brexit and presumption that there will be a Labour revival North of the Border –with Labour offering Scotland a “socialist future” is taking wishful thinking a little far. A General Election tomorrow would see the SNP increasing its support. Support for full independence hovers around 50%, mostly just below. So, not enough to successfully force the issue, but more than enough to stop it going away. Like Catalonia. The majority Remain vote in Scotland gives the prospect of independence in the EU a big market over the water to aspire to belong to as a pull to add to the push given by the sense that successive Conservative governments treat the UK as little more than Greater Little England. Even in Wales, which marginally voted Leave, support for independence is growing.

The impact of the pandemic has raised the profile and standing of the Scottish and Welsh First Minsters, who have each taken a marginally better line on keeping it under control, but have both struck a tone that has been more humane and competent than Johnson; whose standing has correspondingly shrunk. The dynamic of politics in each component of the UK is diverging and becoming more unique. The sudden ubiquity of Union Jacks – behind ministerial podiums and on a flagpole near you – has a slightly desperate air about it; as if they fear that if they weren’t there, we’d forget where we are. The tectonic plates are moving, slowly, under their feet.

What are the consequences for Tory Party and ruling class politics?

Boris Johnson’s New Model Tory Party, with Remainers purged and the Brexit Party vote incorporated, is more libertarian for the rights of business, and more draconian and repressive on civil liberties. Every time you see someone from the Covid Recovery Group banging on about the precious liberty to not wear a mask or turn down a vaccine, check out how their view on the Police Bill or the Nationality and Borders Bill. Their concern for the right to go unvaccinated or maskless is the bravado of those who believe that it is good for the soul to take risks with your life so you can go to work. The liberties they champion are all those that smooth the path to unrestrained consumption. Block a highway to try to save the planet, on the other hand, and your feet won’t touch the ground. 51 months inside and an unlimited fine for you. Standards and order, after all, must be upheld. Ever unoriginal and derivative, they are adopting themes, slogans and attack lines off the peg from the US Republican Party which sets them up for an ever more delirious politics.

Crucially, contrary to delusions held in sections of the trade union movement, they have not and do not intend to abandon austerity. Spending vast amounts to keep private companies afloat in the face of the pandemic is what you might call “socialism for bankers”. And every time Rishi Sunak has the delusion that the pandemic is all over, he starts talking about the need to get the public finances in order, reduce the debt AND reduce taxes on the rich. Same old tune.

Despite labour shortages in some sectors giving some workers a bit of leverage, overall wage settlements are running at 2%, while CPI inflation is 5.1% and RPI (which includes housing costs) 7.1%, and there is a public sector wage freeze. This is not a nativist high wage economy in the making. Quite the reverse

The sum total of “levelling up” is a bit of pork barrel spending on small scale cosmetic developments in Tory held seats – the not so subtle message being “vote for us and get a by pass, don’t vote for us and we leave you to rot”. The adjustments to the social care bill – which primarily hit poorer home owners in the North and benefited wealthier people in the South – and the pruning back of rail investment in the North – showed that they just can’t help themselves.

The extent to which the Tories are coming unstuck at the moment is that after almost two years of one of the worst per capita death rates in the world and no end in sight, the penny is dropping that we are not all in it together, they make the rules to suit themselves and cock a snook at the rest of us and, when discovered, try to brass it out with laughably ludicrous denials and evasions; and this shows what they are like about everything else.

What are the consequences for Labour?
The self comforting myth that the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn was solely a side effect of Labour’s 2019 Brexit policy has some traction on the Labour Left, because it allows us the delusion to think that the forces we are up against are nothing like as powerful as they actually are; so no deep rethink of strategy is needed.

The defeat was actually the result of every single pro ruling class political faction making it their priority to stop him over and above their position on Brexit, or anything else. So, not just the Brexit and Tory Parties, but the Lib Dems and SNP too. Had the Lib Dems and SNP actually been concerned primarily with stopping a hard Brexit in 2019, they’d have supported a temporary Corbyn led government to get that done. They chose instead to precipitate a General Election that they knew Johnson was likely to win.

This was also a concern of the US State Department, who were quite overt that they were making Corbyn “run the gauntlet” (as Mike Pompeo put it).

The function of Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party is primarily to reassure the ruling class that Labour is a safe alternative government – the B team for when the Tories fall apart – and poses no threat to their interests. Much energy has been put into being “statesmanlike” and giving the government support “in the national interest” during the pandemic. Union Jacks have been as common behind Shadow as government Ministers. A relentless purge of the left of the Party, at every level, from the removal of the whip for Corbyn, to panels for local council candidates that keep left candidates off, to the growing number of auto exclusions for ordinary party members send the message that Labour is safe for business, the rules based international order and the Atlantic Alliance.

The new Unionism even extends to Ireland, where Keir Starmer has said he would make the case for the Union in the event of a Border Poll; and Louise Haigh was reshuffled out of her role as Shadow Northern Ireland spokeswoman within a week of arguing that Labour should stay neutral.

Is Brexit a step on the road to socialism?

Tom’s central arguments are
1. that the constitutional arrangements of the EU are an obstacle to socialism and that therefore“ while Brexit Britain may be at risk of being led down a blind alley by the uber-globalists, it is also, in equal measure, able to pursue Socialism. In a post-Brexit Britain, socialists would not be restricted as they had been since Britain joined the EU”.(my emphasis).
2. “Brexit shatters the myth that capitalism can be tamed and that long term liberal, capitalist cooperation is possible.”

Constitutional arrangements are, in themselves, not an insuperable obstacle to the expression of forces in class struggle. When the contradictions get too great, they crack. Making any kind of advance in current circumstances, or even taking effective defensive measures, requires the working class in every country to be both internationalist and seek international alliances and organisation, irrespective of whether we are part of the same trade bloc or not. A struggle for socialism also means seriously engaging with countries that see themselves as socialist and connecting with the recomposition of the left globally that is currently taking place; rather than presuming that we can build social democracy in one country, while paying no attention to the actual domestic relation of class forces – not least in the Labour Party.

The balance of class forces in the Leave campaign and Brexit strategy is a bit of a clue to the direction Brexit has taken, and was always going to take. It was, and is, completely dominated by the most reactionary fraction of UK capital, which controls the Tory Party and therefore the government, with a wing led by Farage directly plugged into the most right wing fraction of US capital -always primed and ready for an astroturf revival to keep the Tories on the straight and narrow -and its street fighting component around Tommy Robinson standing back and standing by on the one side, and the small collection of “anti – EU voices on the left” on the other – some in Labour, some in the CP or from the SWP tradition. The latter would hardly have been welcome on pro leave demos, even had they wanted to go. Physical violence would have been likely. Who has the power here? Who is hegemonic? Conclusions should be drawn. There is a world of difference between struggling against restrictions on state ownership and investment from a position of strength and mobilisation –possibly in government -and looking for international allies in that fight; and taking part as a subordinate element in a movement aiming to remove restrictions on attacks on the working class driven by revanchist nationalism.

All politico- trade agreements between different nations and states are subject to stresses and none of them are eternal. The UK itself is a case in point on a smaller scale than the EU. It has held together because it was very successful as an imperial power for a quarter of a millennium. Its decline is putting its cohesion under strain.

The same applied to Yugoslavia, as a socialist federation broken apart by an economic impasse that allowed more powerful outside forces to put unbearable pressure on its national/political fault lines, with horrific consequences.

The EU is a kind of Hayekian Holy Roman Empire, with Germany big enough to call most of the shots, but not big enough to subordinate and absorb the other big economies, in the way Prussia did with the Zollverien to create the Second Reich. Its future depends partly on internal stresses, but most crucially on the centrifugal pressures put on it by the USA on the one side and China’s Belt and Road initiative on the other; and this overlaps with the eastward military drive of NATO and consequent increasingly fraught relations with Russia. It is hard to imagine that the refragmentation of the EU would follow the scenario Tom sketches of a grateful continental workers movement looking to the shining example of socialism being developed in Britain –hardly an immediate prospect in any case -and breaking away to follow our example. Two, three, many Brexits, could be more like Yugoslavia on a much bigger scale.

The UK capitalist faction that drove Brexit and is – for now – in charge are not “uber-globalists”. They are dyed in the wool Atlanticists. And so – for now – are the leadership of the Labour Party. That means being signed up for a US trade deal and complete fealty to the US alliance and the New Cold War. The dynamic of that anchors the Labour leadership in collusion with the Tory government –seen most recently in Starmer giving them credit for putting health first on Covid when they have presided over one of the worst per capita death rates in the world -and will drive them ever further rightwards. Their “gentleman’s agreement” on by elections with the Lib Dems is a precursor of the least progressive coalition option possible for an alternative government; and possibly a centre recomposition on US Democrat party lines, dumping the organic connection with organised labour, as long hankered after by Blair.

The decisive task for the Labour movement, Party members and trade unions, is to resist this.

Stupid COVID Headlines Deconstructed. 1

The Daily Mail 21/12/21


Strapline: Ministers defy gloomy scientists by refusing to level new curbs without concrete evidence to justify them.

This is a humdinger! “REJOICE!” – with its echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s triumphalism after the Falklands War merging with the overall theme that Xmas is supposed to be a time for Christians to rejoice about the birth of Christ (cue Hallelujah chorus) and everyone else to get happy by eating, drinking and consuming too much – leads on to the downright paradoxical “Xmas is looking safe” (my emphasis). “Safe” of course, has two meanings here. “Safe” as in – going ahead with no restrictions. And “safe” as in, well, actually safe in a medical sense. The implication that the latter is the case is sneaked in on the coat tails of good feelings about the former; even though it so obviously isn’t (and polls show that most people don’t think it is either).

In case anyone is any doubt, the message is hammered home in the strapline.

This is also a classic of its sort.

“Ministers defy gloomy scientists”. How brave of them! Its not as if they have the power in this situation. The “scientists” being described as “gloomy” here are the official SAGE committee. “Gloomy” is a way of dismissing a unanimous view from a body of scientists charged with giving advice to keep us all safe, as though that advice is the result of a killjoy frame of mind rather than a sober assessment of the risks and what we need to do to keep a grip on them. Chris Whitty as the Grinch? Because, who wants to be sober at Xmas? Throughout the pandemic, the official SAGE has tended to be rather cautious in its recommendations – but have several times proposed quicker, sharper, more comprehensive action to stop the spread of the virus than the government has been prepared to take. The government has “defied” this advice every time and dithered along for a few more weeks whistling in the wind with its fingers firmly crossed hoping that the inevitable won’t happen. Then they have u-turned because it has.

This is the concrete content of the Mail’s call for “concrete evidence to justify” the measures that will be required. It takes a willful disregard for the entire experience of this pandemic to presume that this evidence won’t turn up in increased cases, hospitalisations and deaths over the next month. The Mail, as with so many other things, gets the relationship exactly the wrong way round. “Concrete evidence”, in the form of deaths, is exactly what we need to take the measures to avoid.

The paradox of all this is that people are for the most part more cautious than the government, queuing round the block for booster jabs and cancelling meals out and social occasions, digging their masks out and putting them on. The result of this socially responsible caution will be to slow down the rate that the virus spreads. The Mail will doubtless claim in a week or so that the effect of this is some sort of natural feature of Omicron, which made the caution redundant, while cheering on the people going out and spending in hospitality and putting everyone else at risk.

Of course, on the same front page, they had an inset box with a large picture of the Queen smiling in festive red – giving the impression she is happy with their main headline – but, with a slight self consciousness about the dissonance involved – accompanied by the sub headline “As the Queen cancels her Sandringham Festivities, Richard Kay reveals what it all means” which indicates that the 95 year old head of state is actually listening to the “gloomy scientists” and voting with her feet like so many of the rest of us are. God saves those that save themselves?

Omicronic Christmas

Just outside Sainsbury’s a mask lies on the paving stones like a delicate blue lifeboat on a hard, flat sea.

The food bank boxes by the entrance are fuller that usual, and people have donated bottles of wine.

The elderly man who regularly begs outside Aldi sits holding a piece of bread, entranced by the pigeon that perches on his knee to peck it. The bird flies off as someone puts money in his cup. The old man looks up, nods, and touches his heart.

A teenage boy in an immaculate white kaftan just out of Islamic Saturday school zips along the pavement on an electric scooter.

Distracted and tired, I drop a saucepan of baked beans in the kitchen. Baked Bean shrapnel explodes everywhere. Over the floor. Up the fridge, Up the wall and blinds as far as the ceiling. All those CSI stories about “bloodsplatter patterns” come to mind. This morning I discover bean juice splatter on the windows that had got through the blinds. Forceful.

Reading a book about murder in Ancient Rome – A Fatal thing happened on the way to the Forum by Emma Southon. The author stresses that murder of slaves in Ancient Rome was not considered murder, but damage to property; and it occurs to me that the public school products that currently run our government, and most institutions in this country, received the benefit of a classical education. Which explains a lot.

At the bottom of Buck Lane, a family traipses home after Xmas shopping; Mum and two boys. The smaller boy is dragging along a black rubbish bag filled with supposed goodies with a very disgruntled air. It bumps along the pavement. A lot of the kids I see out and about look angry at the moment. Sometimes too much is too much.

An Ad by the side of the road appeals to people “Don’t be alone in the festive period” which is a haunting warning.

The horribly thin Santa that hangs from the side of one of the houses on Kingsbury Road is back. He looks more than ever like a prisoner hanging in a dungeon in a festive suit. Last year, he was left hanging there until March as a forgotten and forlorn reminder of Christmas just past.

In the flats opposite – Mountaire Court, Ernest Trownbridge’s last hurrah, all tall, late medieval, Tudor fantasy in apartment form – a couple of windows sport Christmas lights. One has soothing dark pastel greens, blues and reds that twinkle slowly and gently like a massage for the eyes and brain. The other rapidly flashes yellow in an intense alarm signal staccato that can only be described as a visual klaxon; and makes me seriously grateful not to have epilepsy.

At the end of Handel’s Messiah on Radio 3, I usually well up during the last bars of the Amen chorus -as the soaring fugue gets too much for my nerve endings to cope with. But this time it was the announcer that got to me. She talked about the audience standing and applauding, so grateful for this communal experience that they had missed for so long, and stating in a defiant sort of way that the choir was going to carry out a full programme of concerts over the Xmas period. That was last Tuesday. And now, the lights are going out in concert halls all over the world, and it won’t all be over by Christmas. Weeping felt like appropriate.

Zero Covid strategy works and saves lives.

As the Omicron variant is forcing even the UK government to stop trying to pretend that its all over bar the shouting – and a weary populace starts to realise that “living with the virus” means living with it (and dying from it) forever – its worth looking at what happens when a country takes serious steps to eliminate the virus and contrast it with what’s happened here.

China has had a Zero Covid approach since the beginning and effectively eliminated domestic community transmission by summer 2020. As a result China’s total deaths per million to date are just 3.47. It can barely be seen on the graph. By contrast the UK has lost 2,179 people per million and the USA 2,409 people per million.

To put this more strongly, had China approached this pandemic with the same mix of business oriented fatalism spiced with lashing of denial that we have seen in the USA, and people had died at the same rate, their total deaths would not have been 4849 but 3, 372, 600. (per million death rate of 2409 X 1400, as China’s population is 1.4 billion).

Conversely, had the UK applied a Zero Covid strategy with the same effectiveness as China, we’d have lost just 226 people in the whole pandemic! (Per million death rate of 3.47 X 65, as the UK population is 65 million).

It is an absolute scandal that this is not drawn out by the media debate.

Check out the Zero Covid coalition and the Zero Covid campaign for more information and forthcoming initiatives.

Figures all from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/

Xinjiang: what do we know, how and why?

This is not my Blog. It is put here to provide on online link for wider dissemination. The authors have written one of the calmest, detailed and most dispassionate investigations on Xinjiang that I have read. The information they provide is not covered at all in the press or broadcast media here. This is disturbing, because all the journalists have to do is read it. The complete blackout of information indicates that questioning and debate is not welcome – and nor is anyone who tries to do it. Please read and make up your own mind.

Events in Xinjiang, and how they are interpreted, have become one of the most prominent issues in public discussions in the West about China. 2

What we know about these events, how we know it, and why, should therefore be key questions for debate and discussion among researchers, policy makers and the media. This paper suggests that, while there have been plenty of publications and media coverage on Xinjiang, there has been little critical examination of many of the claims. Instead, the topic of Xinjiang has become highly emotive and political.

A number of claims about the Chinese state’s policies in Xinjiang have become received wisdom in the West. These were summed up in the US Department of State’s statement of 19 January 2021, issued on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last day in office: ‘The People’s Republic of China (PRC) … has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyhgurs and other members of ethnic and
religious minority groups in Xinjiang, [including] the arbitrary imprisonment … of more than one million civilians, forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labor, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.’ Pompeo stated that this campaign had ‘dramatically escalated’ since 2017 and went on to
say that he concluded the PRC had ‘committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyhgurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang’.

Major stories in leading media outlets have delivered similar conclusions in varying levels of
detail. (4)

This paper looks at the publicly-available evidence for the received wisdom on Xinjiang in the West. It comments on what we know about events in Xinjiang, how we know it, and why this issue has become so prominent. The paper is not based on any new empirical research, but a reading of many of the key publications on which claims about Xinjiang are based. (5)

It concludes that the evidence presented so far is limited and that most of the claims about developments in Xinjiang should therefore be treated with a high degree of caution. The authors’ goal is critical questioning rather than definitive answers.

The paper begins with a brief discussion of the background, based on academic literature
on Xinjiang (more plentiful over recent years than the literature on any other region of
China). It then discusses the three main criticisms which have emerged since 2018, relating
to ‘arbitrary imprisonment’ or ‘internment camps’, ‘forced labor’ and ‘forced sterilization’.
The paper then addresses the question of whether the evidence supports a determination
of ‘genocide’, and how we might understand the Chinese state’s policy in Xinjiang. The final
section of the paper addresses discussions of Xinjiang in the West.

Xinjiang today is formally known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, established in 1955.

It accounts for around one sixth of the PRC’s territory and borders eight of its neighbors. Today its population of around 25 million is around half Uyghur and 36 percent Han, 6 with a number of other minority groups which – like the Uyghur – are Muslim majority. It has long been a strategically important region to the PRC, and developments there were influenced from the early parts of the 20th century to the 1960s by relations between China and the Soviet Union. Following the latter’s demise in the 1990s Xinjiang saw a new phase of contestation, (7) ranging from resistance to Chinese modernization to
desires for a Uyghur homeland (akin to the new Stans of Central Asia). Some violence has
been part of this since the 1990s.

The historical roots of this are complicated, but the recent phase of events can be traced back to July 2009, when protests broke out in the regional capital, Urumqi, with violence committed by both Uyghur and Han populations, leaving around 200 dead. The following years saw both a growing state security presence in the region, and a series of violent incidents caused by extremists, characterized by the Chinese government as ‘terrorism’. (8)

One of the most serious was an attack in 2014, in which ‘at least 39’ were killed. Violence spread briefly beyond Xinjiang, with a knife attack at Kunming railway station killing 29 and a jeep ramming Tiananmen Square in 2013. (9)

The reasons for these developments are somewhat disputed in the academic literature on Xinjiang, and the purpose of this paper is not to adjudicate between them. Some blame the violence on state policies, arguing that it is understandable resistance to efforts to constrain Uyghur culture or religious freedom. Others highlight a growth in extremism and links to Islamist militants elsewhere. For a long time, Chinese state responses were based mainly on the idea that economic and social development could reduce tensions and lead to more acceptance of the Chinese state, though with limited reflection on the ways that capital-intensive and state-driven development in Xinjiang might also exacerbate discontent. (10) Alongside this, though, a clear state response to the earlier unrest was a rapid investment in security infrastructure in Xinjiang. (11)

Another important response to the events of 2009 was a growing debate in Chinese intellectual and policy circles about whether existing ‘ethnic minority’ policies remained fit for purpose in Xinjiang. A number of influential Chinese academics began to advocate ‘second generation’ ethnic policies, essentially adopting a ‘melting pot’ model instead of the differentiated institutional treatment of ethnic minorities in the form of preferential policies, for example, in admissions to universities or in family planning. These debates continued through the 2010s and have been well covered in the academic literature, most of which concludes that formal change in the policy framework has been limited but
practice may have shifted in the direction of assimilation. (12)

From late 2013, Xinjiang was designated by Beijing as a ‘core area’ on the Silk Road Economic Belt connecting China westwards across the Eurasian continent. This geostrategic designation has added another layer to the multi-faceted context within which Western discussion of Xinjiang began to grow from late 2017 onwards. (13)

Internment camps or vocational education?
The issue which really began to focus Western attention was the claim that large numbers of Uyghurs were being detained for ‘political re-education’. Many reports and articles on Xinjiang have since referred to ‘reports’ about mass detention, though often with minimal sources. An early report gave some anecdotal claims, (14) while a subsequent report from Radio Free Asia in January 2018 claimed in its headline that 120,000 were being held in Kashgar (Xinjiang’s far west), though it also gave a figure of 32,000 for the whole prefecture. (15) But probably the most influential report on this issue was a paper by Adrian Zenz, published in the academic journal Central Asian Survey in fall 2018. (16) Zenz describes
extra-judicial political ‘re-education’ efforts beginning in 2013, based on a number of examples taken from media and government internet sources in Xinjiang. Zenz used these reports to build a picture of a proactive program of ‘political re-education’ targeted at people in Xinjiang who had been influenced by ‘religious extremism’. The Chinese government initially denied the reports but has since admitted to a ‘deradicalization’ program in Xinjiang. (17)

Given the dominance of this issue in subsequent claims about what is happening in Xinjiang, several points from Zenz’s article deserve further discussion. The first is to note that the length of time he says was spent by individuals in ‘political re-education’ or ‘deradicalization’ seems to vary, but in many cases it was quite short, perhaps a number of days or a matter of weeks in some cases. For example, Zenz reports that in Ghulja (Yining) county, ‘focus persons’ received from 4 days training to 20 days (for ‘the most recalcitrant “strike hard”’ detainees’), and a number of other examples he cites are also short duration.
In a minority of cases, training may have lasted much longer, or led to detention for prolonged periods of time, as has been claimed by a number of Uyghur exiles, though further systematic evidence is needed to corroborate this. A subsequent report of ‘leaked files’ published by the New York Times suggested that some Uyghurs had been taken for ‘training’, but the numbers or length of time were not clear. (18)

A second, related, point is that only part of the (Uyghur or Muslim) population is subject to this ‘re-education’. Here, we get to one of the biggest issues in the Western discussions about Xinjiang, the number of individuals who may have been (or are) in ‘re-education centers’. Zenz’s 2018 article is ambiguous and he himself says there is ‘no certainty’. The abstract simply refers to ‘untold thousands’, while the main text at one point suggests an estimate between several hundred thousand and one million, with another reference to a figure of ‘just over one million’.

The imprecision here is a natural consequence of Zenz’s methodology, which is to look for internet reports giving examples from certain counties and then to extrapolate from these. (19) In one county, Khotan (Hetian), a local official is cited as describing 5 percent of those who had been subject to extremist religious influence as ‘belong[ing] to the hardened faction’. Based on a couple of counties in southern Xinjiang (where the Uyghur population is much higher, and where violence was more prevalent in the period from 2009), Zenz basically assumes that 10 percent of the Muslim population has been through
this ‘re-education’. Based on Xinjiang’s population figures, this gives a figure in the region of one million across Xinjiang.

In spite of this ambiguity and methodological uncertainty, this one million figure has since become a cornerstone of the narrative about what is happening in Xinjiang. Others have defended the figure, such as Jessica Batke, (20) who gives as sources Zenz’s article, a report by China Human Rights Defenders (a US-based NGO) based on interviews with eight ethnic Uyghurs in different villages in southern Xinjiang, a leaked report (which came via a Uyghur exile media organisation, cited by Zenz) giving a figure of 892,000 across 68 counties in Xinjiang in spring 2018, and a report from Radio Free Asia citing four local officials who been told they had detention quotas (10 percent of the population in one village and 40
percent in another). These are hardly conclusive. And while Zenz’s report is the longest, the figure of one million is (somewhat tautologically) based on an assumption that 10 percent of the adult Muslim population is targeted, and the ‘actual’ figure for those who have undergone some re-education could well be anything. (21)

This needs to be considered with the varying lengths of ‘re-education’. The received wisdom has it that ‘Over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim peoples in … Xinjiang are in mass internment camps’ (emphasis added: note the present tense). (22) But – accepting the figures for the moment – the logic of the evidence is captured better by The Economist’s ‘Chaguan’ columnist who wrote that ‘Across Xinjiang, over a million Uyghurs have passed through such camps in recent years’. (23) We should stress that the point here is not about whether such actions are ethically acceptable, but that many of the claims about their scale appear to be seriously exaggerated, and not well based in evidence. In fact, Zenz’s article reveals no direct, verifiable evidence of mass internment (as opposed to evidence for short-term
‘training’ or public tenders for the construction of facilities), only citations of media reports (especially RFA) and anecdotal reports (including from exiles) claiming that this is taking place. Given how much Zenz’s work has been cited by the media, these claims have become circular and self-referential.

A linked question is how many such facilities (‘camps’ or ‘centers’) there are in Xinjiang. Zenz counts the number of bids for re-education related tenders, implying that this tells us something about ‘detention camps’. Other estimates of the number of ‘camps’ have come from analysis of satellite imagery, though the sources of this imagery are usually not clear. For example, Batke refers to a BBC report which cited analysis from ‘analysts from a multinational aerospace company’ judging that there were 44 facilities which ‘had a high or very high likelihood of being a “security facility”’ and data from ASPI which focuses on 28 facilities, while noting that the total number may be over 1,000. (24) It is not clear how these
judgments are made or why ‘security facilities’ or facilities with high border walls (for example) should be assumed to be ‘internment camps’ or ‘re-education camps’ and not factories or state complexes (perhaps even military or paramilitary in nature). Countering these reports, the Chinese government has published pictures of a number of the facilities claimed by ASPI as ‘internment camps’ which show that they are other commercial or public buildings.

Another question relates to the nature of the ‘camps’ or ‘centers’ themselves. Zenz cites government procurement notices for a range of items, from sanitary and catering facilities to security and surveillance equipment, which taken together do not seem conclusive. Ultimately there is little – if any – independent evidence of what happens inside them on which to base judgments about whether they are better described as ‘vocational education’, ‘deradicalization’ or ‘re-education’ centers, or something else. The Chinese government claims that they have provided education and training, equipping people with
useful life skills. The small number of exiles who have been interviewed outside China have made claims about torture and other inhumane treatment. At the moment, all the evidence is anecdotal, and all the sources have skin in the game (though the Chinese government has many more sources than those outside the country).

The most recent reports on what may have taken place inside the camps are worth looking at for what they tell us about what we know (or don’t know), how and why. On 2 February 2021, the BBC published a report claiming ‘systematic rape’ was occurring inside the ‘camps’, based on a few individual testimonies, described in the same report by Zenz as ‘authoritative’. (25) These disturbing accounts are difficult to corroborate, but – however harrowing – do not constitute evidence of a systematic problem. Towards the end of the same report, China commentator Charles Parton is quoted as saying ‘It was unlikely that Xi
or other top party officials would have directed or authorised rape or torture … [but they would] certainly be aware of it’; no evidence is offered for this statement, though its implications are incendiary. (26) The Chinese government has rejected these allegations, and sought to discredit the individuals, including by drawing attention to conflicting testimony they had given in previous interviews.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Chinese government has stated that the last ‘graduates’ of vocational training centers’ completed their training at the end of 2019. (27) This, however, does not seem to have had any impact on the Western debate about Xinjiang, and most commentators still state regularly that one million individuals ‘are interned in camps in Xinjiang’, or words to that effect.

The conclusions of this section suggest that reports of a ‘political re-education’ or ‘deradicalisation’ program in Xinjiang are plausible, but that it targets a small proportion of the (Muslim) population there and that it is difficult to confirm how much volunteerism or coercion was involved in participation in training. Vocational training has probably been offered to a greater number of people than political re-education. The number of ‘centers’ for this remains highly uncertain, as does the number of individuals who have passed through them, and the length of time spent there. But claims such as ‘one million Muslims are incarcerated’ in Xinjiang do not appear to be supported by a careful examination of the
evidence, even that presented by strong critics of the Chinese state, such as Adrian Zenz (whose 2018 article contains no direct evidence of mass internment). It is also possible that the re-education program has already been terminated.

‘Forced labor’ or employment programs?
The idea that the Chinese government’s policy has moved on from this ‘re-education’ approach to another phase was explicitly stated in a February 2020 report by ASPI which appears to be the first setting out another major claim about Xinjiang, that of systematic ‘forced labor’. The second paragraph of the executive summary states: (28) ‘The “re-education” campaign appears to be entering a new phase, as government officials now claim that all “trainees” have “graduated”. There is mounting evidence that many Uyghurs are now being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang. This report reveals that Chinese factories outside Xinjiang are also sourcing Uyghur workers under a revived, exploitative government-led labor transfer scheme. Some factories appear to be using Uyghur workers sent directly from “re education

Uyghurs working in other parts of China is not a new phenomenon, dating back almost two decades or longer (as the ASPI report itself notes); the unrest in Xinjiang in 2009 was sparked by a confrontation between Uyghur and Han workers in a factory in Guangdong. (29)

The ASPI report uses Baidu internet engine search results relating to employment or labor transfer outside Xinjiang to argue that there has been a dramatic increase in this practice from 2017. But arguing that this is encouraged or even organised by the government does not on its own constitute evidence of ‘forced labor’ or coercion. The uncertainty of the linkage here is indicated by ASPI’s own language in the statement of ‘the problem’ at the top of the report: ‘The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from … Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labor, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of … well-known global brands…’ (p. 3, emphases added).

This report does not really delve into its other claim about workers ‘being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang’. That appears to be because the main goal of the report is to highlight the risks that ‘global brands’ might be complicit in the use of forced labor, and that issue (which feeds the wider ‘decoupling’ debate in the West) dominates the report. Labor issues go wider than Xinjiang. There have long been criticisms of labor conditions in China, including for many of the country’s over 250 million ‘migrant workers’. (30) The point here is that what the APSI report says about Uyghur ‘labor transfers’ and conditions in factories far from home appears similar to the situation for other migrant laborers. Fundamentally there is no particular Xinjiang angle to this story, other than the elevated attention in the West to anything relating to that region (one could write a report about labor transfer from Sichuan or Henan, for example).

A subsequent report on ‘forced labor’ focused on cotton farming in Xinjiang, one of the major industries in the region. Written by Adrian Zenz, it argues that ‘hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority laborers in Xinjiang are being forced to pick cotton by hand through a coercive state-mandated labor transfer and “poverty alleviation” scheme’. As with the ASPI report, a major aim of this report is to lobby international businesses to disconnect themselves from supply chains which might involve labor from Xinjiang (these
reports seem to have been quite successful in this, furthering the ‘decoupling’ agenda advocated by many in the Trump administration).

The evidence for this as ‘forced labor’ is the interpretation of government statements about the organization of ‘labor transfer’. A BBC package based on Zenz’s report (and visits to Xinjiang where the journalists were not able to film much or talk to many people) highlights the ambiguous nature of the claims, talking for example about ‘conditions that … appear to raise a high risk of coercion’.(31)

An earlier report by CSIS had concluded that it was ‘possible’ that minorities were being sent to pick cotton but that ‘more information [was] needed’. At best, the evidence for coercion remains weak. (Some of the media reporting has gone beyond the notion of ‘forced labor’ to claims about ‘slave labor’; even Zenz’s reports do not support that, noting that workers are paid.)

More recently, the Jamestown Foundation published another report by Zenz on labor. (32)
Zenz takes issue (in constructive terms) with some of ASPI’s conclusions, including the linkage between ‘graduates’ of the ‘camps’ and labor transfer and some of the evidence ASPI offers for coercion, as well as highlighting some problematic conclusions which can be drawn from anecdotal evidence. (33) Zenz instead argues that there are two separate programs (conflated by ASPI): cross-provincial labor transfer, which tends to be focused on rural surplus labor (in two counties he cites figures for unemployment as 43.6 percent and 71.3 percent; see pp. 18-19), claiming some of these programs are increasingly coercive;
and a different program for ‘graduates’ from the centers who are usually placed in factories close by, often specifically constructed for the purpose. A headline claim of the report is that 1.6 million rural surplus laborers across Xinjiang are ‘at risk of forced labor through the labor transfer program’, though ‘at risk’ is hardly a precise term, and the number is tautological, based on assumptions about the proportion of the population which could be categorised in this way (p. 19). Zenz’s own definition of ‘coercion’ extends to the need to be ‘obedient to factory management’ (p. 24). The survey data cited in the report on the willingness of individuals to move to other parts of China is inconclusive.

‘Forced sterilization’ or family planning?
Another major claim is that Uyghur women have been subject to ‘forced sterilization’ on a massive scale. This is based on a report written by Zenz, published by the Jamestown Foundation in June 2020.(34) The conclusions of this report appear to be rather fuzzy, with apparent inconsistencies and contradictory data points. (35) For example, one claim is that the government planned ‘to subject 80 percent of women of childbearing age in the rural southern four minority prefectures to intrusive birth prevention surgeries … with actual shares likely being much higher (sic)’ (Summary, p. 3), while later we read that ‘In 2018,
Xinjiang sterilized 1.1 percent of all married women of childbearing age’ (p. 17), and that itis ‘likely that Xinjiang authorities are engaging in the mass sterilisation of women with three or more children’ (p. 18). Zenz notes that the 2010 national census showed that 19.7% of Uyghur females had three or more children.

This last point gets to the crux of interpreting what could well be a shift in policy approach. The obvious interpretation is that the authorities are finally implementing family planning policies in Xinjiang, thereby limiting family size, an interpretation which is supported by the public statement in 2017 that Xinjiang would implement a ‘uniform family planning policy for all ethnic groups’. (36)

Whether or not the women involved want to have more than two or three children requires further research, and normative views on birth control (whether state-driven or not) also vary. But there is nothing here to suggest that family planning policies implemented in Xinjiang are specifically designed for Xinjiang or Uyghurs, or intended to stop them having any children. Neither does the implementation of this policy support the claim that about promoting Uyghur ‘assimilation into the “Chinese Nation-Race” (Zhonghua minzu)’, as claimed by the editor of Zenz’s report. (37)

As Zenz himself notes, the latest available statistics (up to 2018) show that the Uyghur population has grown, though the rate of growth (the second derivative) may have fallen more recently, while the Han population of Xinjiang declined from 2012 to 2018 (the reports discussed in the previous section suggest there is also some evidence of a reduction in Han migration into Xinjiang in the cotton sector). As has been pointed out by the Chinese government, the Uyghur population of Xinjiang has grown in absolute and relative terms over recent years, and was over half the region’s population in 2018. (38)

Another claim made based on exiles’ testimony is that Uyghur children have been forcibly removed from their families. One investigative journalist who visited Xinjiang pointed out a big increase in the number of kindergartens in Xinjiang from 2017, and claimed that she had waited outside a kindergarten for children to leave, but none had come out at the end of the day. (39)

Again, these data points are open to straightforward interpretations, that there has been a greater investment in education in Xinjiang, and that boarding is part of school life, as it is elsewhere in China (again, normative assessments of the desirability of this will vary).

Are genocide claims credible?
Discussions in policy circles about whether what was happening in Xinjiang constitutes ‘genocide’ were already taking place in early 2019 (before much of the evidence on which subsequent claims have been based emerged). More frequent public use of the term became apparent in the middle of 2020 and there was a significant uptick in discussion of the concept in early 2021, probably prompted by the US State Department’s designation of 19 January 2021 (see the Introduction to this paper).

The first prominent public mention of ‘genocide’ in relation to Xinjiang was in Zenz’s June 2020 report on ‘forced sterilizations’. This report begins with an editor’s note consisting first of a paragraph praising Zenz’s work and his credentials, then a paragraph summarising the report, followed by this: ‘Based on research in original Chinese-language source materials, Dr. Zenz presents a compelling case that the CCP party-state apparatus in Xinjiang is engaged in severe human rights violations that meet the criteria for genocide as defined by the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.’

This point is not woven into the report’s analysis in any way and only reappears in its final paragraph, where Zenz raises the issue in less clear-cut terms as follows: ‘These findings raise serious concerns as to whether Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang represent, in fundamental respects, what might be characterized as a demographic campaign of genocide per the text of Section D, Article II of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.’ The lack of any detail or argumentation for this in the report raises the possibility that this point was added to the report at a late stage, perhaps at editorial suggestion.

Article II of the relevant UN Convention states that ‘genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’. (40) It then lists five acts, starting with ‘killing members of the group’ (Section A). Section D (cited by Zenz) reads ‘Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’. It is important to note that the scope of Article II is broader than the common perception of genocide, which is generally taken to mean mass killings of a people. Indeed, there is no evidence of mass deaths of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, or any suggestion from the critics of China’s policies that this has taken place – one commentator who has aligned himself with the genocide claim explicitly states that ‘there is no evidence of a campaign to kill’. (41)

The debate over genocide in Xinjiang seems to relate to Section D and to some extent to Section E (‘Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’). This debate has been heated but inconclusive. The State Department determination of 19 January 2021 simply says that the determination was made ‘after careful examination of the available facts’ (it also says that genocide is not just targeted at the Uyghurs but ‘other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang’, though there are no further details or evidence for this addition). According to one report, experts in the State Department were split on the issue, with lawyers arguing against the determination. (42)

In the absence of any public argumentation by the State Department, it is quite possible to interpret Pompeo’s determination as being driven more by politics than a clear-headed assessment of the
facts. Similarly, the statements by Biden administration officials supporting the designation can be explained by their desire to avoid being criticised for being ‘soft’ on China, especially when some – such as Blinken – made their comments on the genocide issue before actually taking up their posts. Other prominent commentators have hedged their bets. For example, Sean Roberts (a long-standing critic of China on Xinjiang) stops short of aligning himself with the genocide claim. (43)

Charles Parton, however, told the BBC he believed genocide was being committed in Xinjiang, though was less forthcoming when asked why that policy was being pursued. (44)

Two analytical questions are at the heart of this claim: whether there is evidence of measures targeted at Uyghurs which might qualify under Article II; and whether there is ‘intent’ on the part of policymakers to ‘destroy [the Uyghurs], in whole or in part’. The authors’ analysis of the reports discussed above indicates that – contrary to Jamestown and Zenz’s claims – there is no evidence of birth control policies specifically targeted at Uyghurs, and that China’s long-standing family planning policy continues to allow Uyghurs
to have children. Section D therefore does not appear to apply. Claims about Section E (‘forcibly transferring children’) are not justified by any systematic research the authors have seen (as noted above), though there have been a small number of anecdotal reports from Uyghur exiles that are used by some to make the argument that Section E does apply.

There is also a problem around ‘intent’. In his piece on ‘the truth’ about genocide, Parton addresses this as follows: ‘The CCP does not spell out its intent, although it comes close when Xi insists on the “Sinicization” of religion or advances his vision of a new “Zhonghua minzu” (usually translated as “Chinese nation”, but “Chinese race” is closer).’

However, there is a huge gap between the use of the term Zhonghua minzu in the PRC’s ethnic policies and in Xinjiang and ‘intent to destroy’ the Uyghurs. Zhonghua minzu is a term which has long been a feature of the PRC’s policy discourse on nationalism and ethnicity and cannot simply be reduced to ‘race’ (it has shaped discussions of Chinese national identity since the late Qing dynasty). In the PRC’s usage it encapsulates the idea of commonality among the citizens of China as a nation-state, while the categorization of 56 minzu (ethnic groups) since the 1950s has institutionalised diversity; there are tensions in this, to be sure, and the relative weight given to these ideas is part of the debate about ‘second generation’ ethnic policies, but this is a very different matter from ‘intent to destroy’ groups. As for the ‘Sinicization’ of religion, official policy statements on Xinjiang suggest that this is about combating extremism and religious-based political opposition, (45) and Xi himself is quoted in ‘leaked documents’ published by the New York Times as rejecting the idea that Islam should be restricted or eradicated (in China), noting that officials should ‘respect their right to worship’. (46) Parton also cites Xi saying ‘We must severely crack down on ethnic separatist activities and persist in the anti-separatism struggle with both cultural and military forces’, but again this is far from an ‘intent to destroy’ a people.

In sum, the conclusion in this paper is that no convincing evidence has been offered of ‘intent to destroy’ the Uyghur people. A determination of genocide is not credible.

State policies in Xinjiang
What, then, is the goal of Beijing’s policy towards Xinjiang? This paper has not paid much attention to Chinese government or media statements, a number of which offer detailed rebuttals of some of the allegations. (47) But based on what the Chinese government has said and on the literature on Xinjiang, we can identify a number of strands to Chinese policy goals in Xinjiang.

First, the government is clear that it believes there has been an ‘extremist’ or ‘terrorist’ problem in Xinjiang. The evidence for this was previously accepted by major Western governments, and includes a number of attacks in the period up to 2015, as well as reports of links between extremists in Xinjiang and those elsewhere (including the statement by Daesh’s leader that Xinjiang should be seized). (48)

According to the authorities, since 2016 there have been no major terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, and this is surely seen in Beijing as a sign of a successful policy. A major part of that has been a heavy security presence and surveillance in Xinjiang, evidenced by state spending and by anecdotal reports and video
evidence from Xinjiang.

Second, the Chinese state appears to have gone beyond a security response to this threat by seeking to ‘deradicalise’ those with more ‘extremist’ ideas and ideology, including through the use of ‘training centers’. This is inherently controversial. The Chinese government has compared it to deradicalization policies elsewhere, and while (as discussed above) the scale of this program is unclear, it seems to be significantly larger than deradicalization programs in Europe, for example. Whether it is a proportionate response to the threat of extremist violence in Xinjiang is debatable.

Third is the broader policy debate in China about ‘second generation’ ethnic minority policies, which has primarily been driven by developments in Xinjiang and Tibet. As noted at the beginning of this paper, this debate appears to have led to limited changes in the formal policy framework which allows for preferential treatment for ethnic minority individuals (and ethnic minority administrative units) in a number of ways, though in practice the trend is towards a more assimilationist approach. Some scholars who have studied this issue for many years have suggested that ‘second generation’ ethnic minority
policies are ‘already with us’, (49) though in formal terms this seems premature as Uyghurs and others continue to be able to identify as such and to enjoy some more generous policies, such as university entrance criteria. In other areas, such as a greater use of standard Chinese (Putonghua) in primary and secondary education, the trend is towards more assimilationist practice. One example examined in depth in a recent article is how the relationship of ethnic minorities to the state is discussed in textbooks, demonstrating that nuanced analysis is needed to encapsulate what is happening.(50)

Relationships between national and minority identities are controversial, not just in China. But even if there has been some movement towards the assimilationist model in Xinjiang, this is a long way short of ‘eradication’ of Uyghur identity or ‘cultural genocide’ (a term often used, though it does not appear to have any relationship to the UN Convention). Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Uyghurs are not happy with these changes, while others have benefited from the greater access to jobs which learning Chinese (for example) brings.

There is clearly no sympathy in Chinese policy circles for any form of ‘Uyghur homeland’ in Xinjiang. Those in Xinjiang who want this, and their supporters outside China, are always going to differ on this point. A fundamental clash of visions between some in Xinjiang and Chinese policy is likely to continue.

Economic development remains another key feature of government policy. This includes long-standing encouragement of migration to places where there are more jobs, and investment in industry and infrastructure in Xinjiang. There are plenty of analyses in the literature which suggest that this approach to development has been unequal and imbalanced (as it has in other parts of China). The centrality of Xinjiang to the Silk Road Economic Belt has highlighted some of the contradictions and enhanced the government’s desire to deliver stability in the region. There are many challenges to be addressed still. It is
also worth noting that Western boycotts of cotton from Xinjiang could actually create greater push for the government to create job opportunities for Uyghurs outside Xinjiang if the region’s economy is hit.

To sum up, the evidence reviewed for this paper suggests that there is a strong security presence in Xinjiang, primarily prompted by the state’s assessment of an ongoing ‘extremist’ threat following numerous attacks across the region in the first half of the 2010s. There is also evidence of a gradual shift in policy towards a more assimilationist approach to ethnic minorities and a stricter implementation of family planning policies, but not a radical move to one which denies or seeks to destroy their identity – we suggest that this conclusion is consistent with Xi Jinping’s comments on ‘strengthening of ethnic
interaction, exchanges and blending’ in Xinjiang, and that those comments should not be taken as indicating a goal of erasing Uyghur identity.

Meanwhile, the authorities are keen to promote economic development and modernisation in the region, including by encouraging migration to places where more jobs are available, though in ways which may clash with the preferences of some of Xinjiang’s rural populations. None of this supports allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, or even ‘cultural genocide’, though it is quite plausible that there are some cases of maltreatment, and that more ‘hardline’ resistance is dealt with in brutal fashion. China’s overall approach to political rights, including their relation to economic development and state interests, is different from that in liberal democracies, and this is part of the context for understanding Xinjiang too.

In case it is not already clear, let us state that we do not agree with statements that suggest peace and harmony reign in Xinjiang. The reality appears to be much more complicated.

Public discussions of Xinjiang in the West
However, complexity is not a feature of the picture that is painted in most of the Western media coverage, statements by politicians, or even governments. The State Department under Pompeo accused China of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. Parliaments in Canada and the Netherlands have voted to call it genocide.

The space in the Western policy world for dissent, or even questioning, is limited, with phrases such as ‘Xinjiang denier’ being used to ostracise anyone who dares to question the received wisdom. Those who do not ‘take a stand’ against Chinese policies towards Xinjiang are outed on social media or become the objects of ‘cancel culture’ campaigns.

Recently, The Economist was heavily criticised for an editorial suggesting that events in Xinjiang did not constitute genocide (even though it did support the designation ‘crimes against humanity’), with some even calling for it to ‘apologise’ for stating this view. There are only a small number of exceptions
to the dominance of this narrative. (51)

Why might the received wisdom on Xinjiang have fallen on such fertile ground? First, there is the simple volume of reports. One report after another is issued which claims to provide ‘further chilling evidence of atrocities’. On careful reading, most of these add little new (many media reports are mainly reworkings of Zenz’s articles, with added individual testimony). By focusing on what the Western ‘response’ should be, many of these reports simply take the ‘evidence’ as read, or cite previous reports as evidence in a
somewhat circular fashion.

It is noteworthy that many of the original reports of so-called ‘atrocities’ in Xinjiang emanated from the pen of Adrian Zenz, who has also played a prominent role in spreading the allegations through media appearances and congressional testimony. Rarely has one researcher had such a powerful impact on public policy debates. The consequence of this is that judgments on Xinjiang turn to a great degree on the credibility of Zenz’s work. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Chinese propaganda machine has targeted Zenz by name on numerous occasions.

Second, over the last few years, there has been a clear shift in Western public debates on China. This has been driven mainly in the US, but also in Europe, with the Trump administration’s turn to a hostile China policy at the heart of it. The roots of this are complex: China as a possible peer competitor to the US, American policy elites’ insecurity and need for rivals, a desire to pull China away from its relations with Muslim states, the role of interest groups, and so on. However, this hostile policy has taken an ideological
turn, emphasising the difference and alleged inferiority of China’s system. Reports such as Zenz’s on Xinjiang are grist to the mill.

There are probably some among the critics who are genuine in their ideology, believing that pressure could turn China into a liberal democracy. But deeper stereotypes of ‘oriental despotism’ also feed these tendencies (and have come to the surface too in the way Covid-19 has been covered).

In short, current Western discussions about Xinjiang look as much like a political project as an analytical endeavour. With China now such an emotive topic for many in the West, the chances of a more rational and objective discussion of Xinjiang look slim. But the authors hope that this paper may at least encourage the resumption of normal critical discussion about this most important of topics. (52)
52 What is missed in all of this is a serious debate about what Western policy goals in relation to Xinjiang
should be and what can be achieved. Sanctioning individuals doesn’t seem to work. Trying to ‘shame’
Beijing into changing course appears only to reinforce perceptions that the West is out to get China, and that some of its media and think tanks are part of an organised disinformation campaign.

1 Authors’ note: After much thought, the authors of this paper have decided to remain anonymous. They do not want to receive hate mail, letters sent to their employers, or additional risks to securing tenure.

2 Here the West is taken to include the Anglosphere (‘five eyes’ countries) and much of Europe. There
has been much less public interest in Xinjiang outside of the West, with some exceptions such as
Singapore, Malaysia and Pakistan.

3 State Department, Determination of the Secretary of State on Atrocities in Xinjiang, 19 January 2021.

4 For a recent long piece which sums up parts of the conventional wisdom well, see

5 The focus is mainly on academic articles and long research reports, though not all of these are covered
in depth and there may be more written which the authors are not aware of. There has been so much
media reporting of this topic, that it is not feasible to review all of that coverage as well.

6 Based on official statistics for 2018. Global Times (2021). An Analysis Report on Population Change in
Xinjiang, 7 Jan. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202101/1212073.shtml

7 Hassan H. Karrar (2018). Resistance to state-orchestrated modernization in Xinjiang: The genesis of
unrest in the multiethnic frontier. China Information 32(2), 183-202.

8 Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee and Emir Yazici (2019/2020). Counterterrorism and
Preventive Repression: China’s Changing Strategy in Xinjiang. International Security 44(3), 9-47.

9 Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley (2019). ‘Absolutely no mercy’: Leaked files expose how China
organized mass detentions of Muslims. New York Times, 16 Nov.

nsion or Part of the Problem. In China’s Frontier Regions: Ethnicity, Economic Integration and Foreign
Relations, edited by Michael E. Clarke and Douglas Smith. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. Thomas
Cliff (2016). Lucrative Chaos: Interethnic Conflict as a Function of the Economic ‘Normalization’ of
Southern Xinjiang. In Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Tibet and Xinjiang: Unrest in China’s West, edited by
Ben Hillman and Gray Tuttle. New York: Columbia University Press.

11 Adrian Zenz and James Leibold (2020). Securitizing Xinjiang: Police Recruitment, Informal Policing and
Ethnic Minority Co-optation. The China Quarterly 242, 324-348.

12 118-132. James Leibold (2013). Ethnic Policy in China: Is Reform Inevitable? Honolulu: East-West

13 Michael Clarke (2020). Beijing’s Pivot West: The Convergence of Innenpolitik and Aussenpolitik on
China’s ‘Belt and Road’?. Journal of Contemporary China 29(123), 336-353.

14 Megha Rajagopalan (2017). This is what a 21st-century police state really looks like. BuzzFeed News,
17 Oct. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/meghara/the-police-state-of-the-future-is-already-here

15 Radio Free Asia (2018). Around 120,000 Uyghurs Detained For Political Re-Education in Xinjiang’s
Kashgar Prefecture. 22 Jan. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/detentions-01222018171657.html.
The 32,000 figure was cited by Zenz, see next footnote.

16 Adrian Zenz (2019). ‘Thoroughly reforming them towards a healthy heart attitude’: China’s political
re-education campaign in Xinjiang. Central Asian Survey 38(1), 102-128. A pre-print posted online is
dated 6 Sept. 2018.

17 Normative judgments about this sort of program will differ, and deradicalization programs elsewhere have proved controversial (this is not intended to draw a direct comparison between the Chinese
approach and that elsewhere, something that Chinese officials have done, simply to note that this sort of
program is likely to be contested).

18 Ramzy and Buckley, Absolutely no mercy.

19 The authors find the logic and structure of these articles hard to follow. They often string together
anecdotal and partial information and present it confidently as established fact without considering
alternative interpretations for the evidence presented, or demonstrating awareness of the limited nature of the evidence on which their conclusions are based. These are basic weaknesses in research methodology.

20 Jessica Batke (2019). Where Did the One Million Figure for Detentions in Xinjiang’s Camps Come
From? ChinaFile, 8 Jan. https://www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/features/where-did-one-million-figure-detentions-xinjiangs-camps-come.

21 There have been some media reports that the one million is a UN figure. The only reference we could
find to this is discussions of the claim at a Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination hearing
in August 2018, but these are based on the claims made by others, not any independent UN work. See

22 Sean R. Roberts (2021). The Roots of Cultural Genocide in Xinjiang. Foreign Affairs.

23 Chaguan. China doubles down in Xinjiang. The Economist. 12 Dec. 2020 (emphasis added).

24 See Batke, The One Million Figure.

25 BBC (2021). ‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape. 2 Feb.

26 Parton published a comment piece on the same issue in The Spectator the following day; the timing
suggests that he was aware of the content of the BBC report before it was published.

27 Eva Dou and Philip Wen (2020). ‘Admit Your Mistakes, Repent’: China Shifts Campaign to Control
Xinjiang’s Muslims. Wall Street Journal. 6 Feb. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-shifts-to-new-phase-in-campaign-to-control-xinjiangs-muslims-11580985000.

28 The first paragraph summarises existing claims about ‘re-education camps’. See Australian Strategic
Policy Institute (ASPI) (2020). Uyghurs for sale: ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond
Xinjiang. Policy Brief No. 26, 1 Mar. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale.

29 For details, see David Tobin (2020). A ‘Struggle of Life or Death’: Han and Uyghur Insecurities on
China’s North-West Frontier. The China Quarterly 242, 301-323.

30 For an excellent book on this topic, see Pun Ngai (2016). Migrant labor in China. Polity Press.

31 BBC (2021). China’s ‘tainted’ cotton. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/nz0g306v8c/china-tainted-cotton.

32 Adrian Zenz (2021). Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang’s Cross-Regional Labor
Transfer Program: A Process-Oriented Evaluation. The Jamestown Foundation.
https://jamestown.org/product/coercive-labor-and-forced-displacement-in-xinjiangs-cross-regional-labor-transfer-program/. One of his sources is a research report from Nankai University (which he translates in an Appendix), and while this may be a good source, a lot is hung on this one report, which is not by an official body. The BBC carried a story on the same issue on the same day, also citing the ‘Nankai report’. See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-56250915.

33 If nothing else, this suggests that normal critical faculties should be applied to all the reports on this

34 Adrian Zenz (2020). Sterilisations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang. Jamestown Foundation. https://jamestown.org/product/sterilizations-iuds-and-mandatory-birth-control-the-ccps-campaign-to-suppress-uyghur-birthrates-in-xinjiang/.

35 Zenz’s methodology is again to look for official documents or media reports on the Chinese internet,
and to draw wider conclusions assuming that the small number of such reports he finds are
representative. This may explain the apparent inconsistencies in figures cited throughout the report.

36 Cao Siqi (2017). Xinjiang implements new uniform ethnic family planning policy. Global Times 31 July.

37 See below for discussion of the concept of Zhonghua minzu.

38 Global Times (2021). An Analysis Report on Population Change in Xinjiang, 7 Jan.

39 Vice News (2021). China’s Vanishing Muslims: Undercover in the Most Dystopian Place in the World.
Video available at https://youtu.be/v7AYyUqrMuQ.

40 The text of the Convention can be accessed at https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocitycrimes/Doc.1_Convention%20on%20the% 20Prevention%20and%20Punishment%20of%20the%20Crime%20of%20Genocide.pdf

41 Charles Parton (2021). The truth about China’s genocide against the Uyghurs. The Spectator. 3 Feb.

42 See Colum Lynch (2021). State Department Lawyers Concluded Insufficient Evidence to Prove
Genocide in China. Foreign Policy. 19 Feb.

43 Roberts, The roots of cultural genocide.

44 BBC (2021). Uyghurs: ‘Credible case’ China carrying out genocide. 8 Feb.

45 陈全国:深入学习贯彻习近平总书记重要讲话精神 以新疆工作的优异成绩庆祝建党100周年, Xinjiang
Daily, 5 Jan. 2021.

46 Ramzy and Buckley, Absolutely no mercy.

47 For example, a press conference held in Beijing in February 2021. See https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjbxw/t1854674.shtml.

48 Anna Hayes (2020). Interwoven “Destinies”: The SIgnificance of Xinjiang to the China Dream, the Belt
and Road Initiative, and the Xi Jinping Legacy. Journal of Contemporary China 29 (121), 31-45, pp.

49 Gerald Roche and James Leibold (2020). China’s Second-generation Ethnic Policies Are Already Here.
Made in China Journal. 7 Sept.

50 Taotao Zhao and Sow Keat Tok (2020). “From Academic Discourse to Political Decisions? The Case of
the Xinjiang Ethnic Unity Education Textbook Reform”. The China Quarterly.

51 The most prominent exceptions have been a series of reports from Grayzone, which have attacked
Zenz personally and outlined numerous inconsistencies in his reports. An example of ‘cancel culture’ in
this context was a letter written by a group of NGOs (signed ‘Hong Kong Global Connect’) in early
February to the president of Columbia University, complaining about comments on Xinjiang and other
China-related issues by Prof Jeffrey Sachs.

52 What is missed in all of this is a serious debate about what Western policy goals in relation to Xinjiang
should be and what can be achieved. Sanctioning individuals doesn’t seem to work. Trying to ‘shame’
Beijing into changing course appears only to reinforce perceptions that the West is out to get China, and that some of its media and think tanks are part of an organised disinformation campaign.