China’s authoritarian control system – Interview with Patrick Poon, Researcher at Amnesty International

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Patrick Poon is a researcher at Amnesty International, East Asia Regional Office (EARO) and former journalist.

Interview by Matteo Damiani

Chinese government finally acknowledged the Xinjiang mass internment camps, but claimed they are “vocational training centers”. Do you think China will adopt the Xinjiang model to other provinces?

The government’s treatment of Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is much more intense than other places in China.

The situation in Tibet is also unclear. We don’t know if Tibetans are also subjected to similar treatment.

But, overall, from what we learned from overseas Kazakhs and Uighurs who told us about their relatives’ situation in Xinjiang, the Chinese government’s intention to make the ethnic minorities completely under control and brainwash them to accept that they are all “Chinese” and thus accept the Chinese Communist Party’s rule.

What’s going on in the Chinese universities to student activists? After stimulating the study of Marx’s thinking in Chinese universities, how can the Chinese government justify the crackdown on Maoist and Marxist students? How is it possible to reconcile this apparent contradiction with public opinion?

The government is strengthening their move to brainwash university students as Xi Jinping also noted in his policy to strengthen the studies of Marxism in universities.

However, from the cases of a crackdown on student supporters of the Jasic workers, we can see that what the Chinese government is concerned the most is how to curb dissenting opinions by all means.

The authorities cannot tolerate the students’ opinions and actions to support the Jasic workers although the students are simply carrying out what Marxism is meant for, to fight for the rights of the workers who are oppressed by capitalists.

The only means to justify this contradiction is to describe the students and the workers as troublemakers and discredit the NGO workers who help them as elements accepting foreign funding and thus foreign hostile elements.

That reflects the Chinese government’s ideological contradiction.

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The only means to justify this contradiction is to describe the students and the workers as troublemakers and discredit the NGO workers who help them as elements accepting foreign funding and thus foreign hostile elements.

What are the risks of the social credit system? Do you think that other nations will follow the Chinese example?

The social credit system puts everyone in China under further and wider scale of surveillance by the Chinese authorities.

People are completely under the radar of the authorities. Everybody’s life is influenced by this system in all aspects.

Other authoritarian regimes might find this model useful to exert more social control on citizens.

It will definitely further restrict people’s human rights in many aspects.

The Belt and Road initiative is an important economic and political project for China. What risks do you see for partner countries and for China itself?

It will have a serious environmental impact on the extraction of natural resources, power relations among China and the partner countries affecting international human rights norms, China’s extension of power on international affairs and thus affecting international order by China’s standards instead of following international standards on business, human rights, culture among other areas.

How is Hong Kong reacting to the progressive seizure of power by the Chinese authorities? In your opinion, are there any solutions?

Hong Kong people at large are maintaining the important values of the rule of law and struggling to maintain freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

These are the most important elements that make Hong Kong different from other places in China.

Continued effort to maintain these values is the only way to keep Hong Kong’s autonomy.

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