Ten years ago, President Xi Jinping had a clear vision for China.
He would restore the country to its former glory and would not be ashamed of its place in the global order. He would also make the country strong, wealthy, and stable.
Many of the goals he set forth have been achieved. Many people hoped that liberal reforms would achieve this, but it has been achieved at least partially through increased control over his people.
The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China will conclude this weekend. This is a once in a five-year event, with the main purpose of selecting the top leaders to lead China into the future.
It seems almost certain President Xi is going to be appointed for a record-breaking third term. This means that he could theoretically become a leader for the rest of his life.
This means that his vision of China and his method of implementing it have an increasing air of permanence.
For those who were subject to the most severe crackdowns, this is crucial.
Abudukel, a young Turkish woman, tearsfully showed me photos of her family and brother in Istanbul. She is many miles from China. She doesn’t know where they are.
She is a Uyghur Muslim living in the western Chinese province Xinjiang.
After a series of terror attacks against Xi, he launched a massive crackdown on the Uyghurs.
An estimated one million people were held in camps at one time. Many have been tortured and an entire culture destroyed.
Abudukel’s father was detained in 2017 after Abudukel said that he had been pressured by authorities to make her return to China for her studies abroad.
Her mother and brother disappeared a year later. Now, she is alone and haunted by the message her brother sent to her.
“My brother’s voice mail was,’sister sister, are you here?'” She breaks down in tears and says, “My brother’s voice message was,’sister, sister. Are you there?”
“He might have left that note when they arrived and arrested my mother.
“It is obvious that as long as Xi Jinping remains one more day, there will be more suffering.”
“Our homeland looks like an open-air prison right now. On the surface it appears open but everything is controlled.”
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According to the Chinese government, Uyghurs are being held in voluntary “reeducation camps” by their own will and this was necessary to ensure safety.
This is, however, a terrible example of President Xi’s China – a place in which dissent seems almost impossible.
Journalists, lawyers, and human rights organizations have been mostly silenced. People here also know that they are being watched and monitored. Their faces and voices are tracked by technology and social media is censored.
This was just last week. A single man set a small flame on a Beijing bridge and hung banners calling President Xi a dictator in a rare and brave act of protest.
However, the impact was quickly tainted. China’s army censors made sure that the images were removed from social media and that those who shared them were blocked from all platforms.
They say that this leads to an extraordinary amount of self-censorship for those who are not from China.
Ma Jian hasn’t been home in many years. His books, which are both author and artist, were banned in China.
He was a participant in 1989’s Tiananmen Square protests and believes that the same activism would not be possible today.
“Before, it was possible for me to return to China.” He explains that police would talk to him, follow me, and tell me who I could and couldn’t meet. They now block me completely from China.
“If any person speaks one word about Hong Kong, Tibet or Xinjiang via WeChat, or on the pages of a manuscript, they will be disowned or taken to prison or silenced.
“So there’s a fear now that surrounds society. This is the plan, this was what Xi Jinping had planned when he took over. This is his first step towards the ‘China dream. Controlling all thoughts is the first step.
This weekend, President Xi will officially close the Communist Party Congress. His rule is almost certain to be extended.
His China is challenging the entire world. It is more difficult than ever to challenge him.