China Undercover (full film) | FRONTLINE

>> China has enforced lock downs in 14 more provinces and cities >> NARRATOR: Before China was at the center of the coronavirus pandemic >> Beijing tries to show it’s in control of the epidemic >> NARRATOR: …a very different human tragedy >> The number of people that can be held is unprecedented >> NARRATOR: The crackdown on Chinese Muslims >> (disguised voice 1): >> NARRATOR: FRONTLINE goes undercover >> (disguised voice 2): >> NARRATOR: To expose a next-generation surveillance state Now, “China Undercover” ♪ ♪ >> (Muyeser): >> NARRATOR: A message– from a woman to her husband– secretly sent from somewhere over these mountains >> (Muyeser): >> (Sadyrzhan): >> NARRATOR: This is Sadyrzhan Two years ago, his wife, Muyeser, went to visit her parents in China She never returned >> (Sadyrzhan): >> NARRATOR: She left behind three children >> (Muyeser): >> NARRATOR: Soon after she disappeared, Muyeser managed to smuggle out a short video from what looks like a detention camp ♪ ♪ Over the past three years, an estimated two million Chinese Muslims have been held in camps like this, which the Chinese government has described as “vocational education and training centers.” Muyeser’s message ends with a farewell to her family >> (Muyeser): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: March 2019 Sadyrzhan is on his way from his home in Kazakhstan to the Chinese border He’s a Uyghur, a largely Muslim ethnic minority in China, that has been targeted by the communist regime He’s now looking for information about his wife and when she might be released Filming is discouraged on the border, so we’re shooting discreetly on a phone >> (Sadyrzhan): >> (man): >> (Sadyrzhan): >> NARRATOR: Sadyrzhan wants to call a contact inside China who knows his wife But the Chinese authorities monitor calls made from foreign numbers, so he needs to use a phone with a Chinese SIM card >> (Sadyrzhan): (music playing on phone speaker) >> (man on phone and Sadyrzhan): >> (Sadyrzhan): >> NARRATOR: He gets through to his contact >> (Sadyrzhan): >> NARRATOR: Chinese technology is advanced enough to be alerted by certain words, so they speak in code >> (Sadyrzhan): >> (man on phone): >> (Sadyrzhan): (dial tone humming) >> NARRATOR: “Studying” means she is being detained >> (Sadyrzhan):

>> NARRATOR: Sadyrzhan’s become a vocal advocate for Uyghur rights (horse neighing) >> (Sadyrzhan): (people cheering and whistling) >> NARRATOR: Xinjiang is the region of China just beyond this border It means “new territory.” >> (speaking local language) >> NARRATOR: Uyghur Muslims– with their own culture and language– have been living there for over 1,000 years But the territory was invaded by China’s Qing dynasty around 250 years ago and brought under Chinese control ♪ ♪ The regime tightly guards access to Xinjiang, and journalists are not able to work freely there ♪ ♪ We decide to go undercover We’ve been warned that Uyghurs are under regular surveillance and foreigners would be followed Here in Northern Thailand, we are introduced to someone willing to help– a businessman who often works with journalists He’s part of China’s Han ethnic majority, which will give him more freedom to travel and film But it’s still dangerous We’re disguising his voice and calling him Li >> (Li): >> NARRATOR: If caught secretly filming, he could be imprisoned >> (Li): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Xinjiang is China’s largest region While Uyghurs and other Muslims are the majority, for over 60 years, the government has encouraged Han Chinese to settle here They make up around 40% of the population ♪ ♪ In early 2019, Li touches down in the regional capital, Ürümqi ♪ ♪ >> (Li): >> (speaking local language) >> NARRATOR: Li is posing as a businessman, looking for new opportunities while on vacation Some things can be filmed openly here But photography in many places is forbidden The police are everywhere━ shots of them have to be taken quickly ♪ ♪ Traveling with a Uyghur taxi driver, Li is told there’s one rule for Han Chinese like him at checkpoints and another for Uyghurs >> (taxi driver): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Li secretly films himself going through several checkpoints on the streets >> (Li): (metal detector beeping) ♪ ♪

>> NARRATOR: In another taxi– this time with a Han Chinese driver– the conversation turns to relations between Han Chinese and Uyghurs >> (taxi driver): >> (taxi driver): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: In 2009, thousands of Uyghurs rioted after police suppressed peaceful protests against the killing of two Uyghurs in another part of China (tear gas gun fires) According to the government, almost 200 people– mainly Han Chinese– were killed During the violence and police crackdown that followed, an unknown number of Uyghurs were killed and thousands imprisoned >> This was a watershed moment in the recent history of Xinjiang The view of Uyghurs among Han Chinese changed dramatically (fanfare playing) >> NARRATOR: Then, three years later, China got a new leader >> Xi Jinping comes to power in 2012, and he’s invested a lot of energy in establishing greater controls over speech There’s a lot less room for dissent in, in Xi’s China (fanfare continues) Now, what is China? It’s a place that is defined by Han Chinese traditions, the Han Chinese official language of Mandarin And there is increasingly little space for Uyghurs in this imagination of, of what China is (fanfare ends) (explosions roar) >> NARRATOR: After Xi Jinping became president, a series of high-profile, violent attacks took place across China ♪ ♪ Some were carried out by Uyghur separatists and Islamist militants ♪ ♪ One was here in the heart of Beijing, in Tiananmen Square In total, more than 100, mainly Han Chinese, were killed in the attacks >> From Xi’s perspective, what’s being fought in China is a new version of the war on terror, and that the Uyghurs are a problem that are not going to go away, and that need to be dealt with >> NARRATOR: According to Chinese government files leaked to the New York Times, President Xi told officials to unless the tools of “dictatorship” to eradicate radical Islam in Xinjiang Chinese officials have dismissed this as “total nonsense and a pack of lies.” Following the militants’ attacks, the Chinese authorities cracked down on the entire Uyghur population and launched a systematic assessment of every Muslim in Xinjiang >> You start out with 100 points, and you’re a safe person, and then for each category that applies to you, you’re deducted ten points Some of the categories are, for instance: Are you a Uyghur? Are you between the ages of 15 and 55? Do you have Islamic knowledge? Do you pray regularly? ♪ ♪ Do you have relatives living abroad? Do you have a passport? ♪ ♪ The government quickly realized that the number of unsafe people that they were finding was quite large So, the state began to build out camps on a large scale >> NARRATOR: The Chinese government initially denied these camps even existed But over the course of a year, satellite imagery revealed enormous, prison-like structures being built Drone footage from Xinjiang appears to show large numbers of shackled prisoners ♪ ♪ And thousands of Uyghurs living abroad suddenly lost contact with relatives in China This is Gulzire, a Uyghur

refugee living in Germany Over two years ago, she received a chilling voice message from her sister >> (Gulgine): >> (Gulzire): >> NARRATOR: Gulzire’s sister, Gulgine, was living in Malaysia, but had decided to go back to Xinjiang when their parents stopped replying to messages >> (Gulzire): ♪ ♪ (people talking in background) >> NARRATOR: A month later, Gulzire was told by a friend in Xinjiang that her sister was studying– the code word for being detained No one knew when Gulgine would be released >> (Gulzire): >> (Gulgine): >> (Gulzire): >> NARRATOR: During this time, China was believed to have built around 1,200 detention camps that held an estimated two million Uyghurs and other Muslims– what experts have described as the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust ♪ ♪ >> (Gulzire): >> NARRATOR: Back in Xinjiang, our undercover colleague, Li, is trying to find people willing to talk about the camps A week into his trip, he has a chance meeting with a Uyghur who speaks English But he’s afraid to speak openly >> NARRATOR: Li discovers that this Uyghur man’s parents have been sent to a camp >> (reporter):

>> NARRATOR: China has tried to portray the camps in a positive light >> (woman): >> (announcer): >> (group): >> (woman 2): >> (announcer): >> (woman 3): >> (man): >> (all): >> (woman): >> NARRATOR: But classified Chinese government documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveal a much different picture of life inside the camps The documents depict the camps as involuntary indoctrination centers with high watchtowers, constant camera surveillance, harsh punishments, and dedicated police bases to prevent escapes ♪ ♪ It’s difficult to find former detainees inside Xinjiang willing to talk about the camps But back in Kazakhstan, some Muslims who fled here after being released are more open about what they experienced >> (Rahima): >> (Gulzira): ♪ ♪ >> (Rahima): >> (Gulzira): >> (Rahima): >> NARRATOR: Chinese officials would not agree to speak to us on camera about Xinjiang and the camps But in written responses, a spokesman said, “Requirements on respecting and safeguarding human rights are strictly followed, the dignity of the trainees are fully respected, and insults and cruelties of any form are strictly prohibited.” ♪ ♪ Across Xinjiang, there are growing concerns that the Uyghur way of life is under threat Our colleague Li heads to Kashgar, the Uyghurs’ cultural capital >> (speaking local language) >> NARRATOR: Children here are no longer allowed to learn the Uyghur language or culture at school Li visits a local mosque >> (Li): >> NARRATOR: Li hears the same story from Han Chinese he meets during his travels >> (woman): ♪ ♪

>> NARRATOR: There has been mounting evidence coming out of Xinjiang of a systematic attack on Uyghur culture Satellite imagery shows the partial or complete demolition of more than two dozen Islamic religious sites, including mosques The Chinese government told us that only one mosque has been demolished for safety reasons, and the rest are being repaired, and that people of all ethnic groups enjoy full freedom of religious belief ♪ ♪ >> (Gulzire): >> (boy): >> NARRATOR: In Germany, as Gulzire awaits word on her sister, she is teaching her son to speak Uyghur (both speaking Uyghur) >> (Gulzire): (both speaking Uyghur) >> (Gulzire): (both speaking Uyghur) ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: In Xinjiang, the Chinese regime closely watches the Uyghurs Li films sophisticated surveillance cameras on almost every street It’s part of a technology revolution since President Xi came to power >> (Xi Jinping): >> NARRATOR: There are an estimated 1,400 tech companies, mostly Chinese, working in Xinjiang Many are involved in the surveillance systems being used there ♪ ♪ It’s rare for anyone from these companies to speak openly about their work, but one insider agreed to talk to us about the surveillance technology he helped develop He has since left China and spoke on the condition we conceal his identity and not disclose where he currently lives ♪ ♪ >> (engineer): >> NARRATOR: He says his work in Xinjiang revealed to him the ways the government gathers data on the Uyghur population >> (engineer): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: It’s not just the Uyghurs who are subject to this intense surveillance In Kazakhstan, we interviewed Chinese Kazakhs, also Muslims, who say they experienced the same monitoring when they lived in Xinjiang >> (Sholpan): >> In 2017, the Chinese state

began a data collection process, which is really what supports the technology in general They asked all people in the province to go to their local police station and submit data, which ranged from DNA collection, blood, and fingerprints, to speaking into a microphone to get a unique voice signature for each person And to have a facial scan >> (speaking local language) >> NARRATOR: The Chinese authorities also use more direct methods through two programs called Homestay and Becoming Family Han Chinese are sent into the homes of Muslims like this one >> (man): >> NARRATOR: Visitors are described by the authorities as “relatives.” In reality, they’re working for the government >> The relatives are inputting data that they’re gathering that presents a biographical profile for each person that, that they’re monitoring >> (Sholpan): >> (singing): >> NARRATOR: The Chinese government did not respond to our questions about the programs Publicly, they say they’re promoting national unity and productivity Many Uyghurs’ houses are also individually marked with digital barcodes Li films them ♪ ♪ >> Police officers come on a regular basis to scan that code, and then the code would pull up your file on their smartphone And then they would make sure that only the people that are registered for that house are in that house >> NARRATOR: Uyghurs and other Muslims are also required to install an app on their phones to monitor for content the government deems suspicious >> There’s an emerging ecosystem of apps being developed by the police in Xinjiang, all of which lead to a level of intrusiveness into everyday life that, that is unprecedented ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: While in Xinjiang, Li is introduced to a security official in the government He secretly films the conversation We’re concealing the official’s identity He’s surprisingly candid >> (official): >> (official): >> NARRATOR: In its responses to us, the Chinese government said, “The security situation in Xinjiang has been greatly improved,” and, “There is more effective protection of the freedom of religious belief and human rights of Uyghur Muslims.” ♪ ♪ (radio running in background) One of the Chinese government’s key contracts in Xinjiang is with the technology company Leon >> In Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Leon assists communication operators to jointly build information society bases on fifth generation >> NARRATOR: Leon has helped the authorities build what many experts consider the most complete surveillance state in history

>> …local government with providing border security In Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Leon helps Shihezi’s project of tranquil city In Kashgar, Leon support local public security bureau in constructing and operating security and protection system (phone camera rustling) >> NARRATOR: Our colleague, Li, manages to get a meeting with Leon executives, saying he’s interested in possible business with them >> (Leon executive): >> (Leon executive 2): >> NARRATOR: The executives tell Li that the cameras are provided by Hikvision, the world’s largest surveillance-camera manufacturer It’s one of eight tech companies blacklisted by the U.S government over concerns about human-rights violations in Xinjiang >> (Leon executive 2): >> (Leon executive 2): >> NARRATOR: The engineer who helped develop Xinjiang’s mass-surveillance system explained how these companies’ technology works >> (engineer): >> NARRATOR: His account matches reports by other tech experts and human-rights researchers The Leon executives tell Li about even more sophisticated technology their company has helped the government implement >> (Leon executive 2): >> (Leon executive 2): >> Leon participates in makers of cloud data room in order to ensure the information enabled >> NARRATOR: A Leon promotional video gives some hints about this revolutionary new system >> …committed to informatization to help the government establish more efficient informatization system and provide perfect services for operation and maintenance >> NARRATOR: The former engineer from Xinjiang said the system is called the Integrated Joint Operations Platform >> (engineer): >> NARRATOR: Powered by artificial intelligence, or A.I., the system tries to identify behavior the government considers threatening >> (engineer): ♪ ♪

>> It’s an environment where cutting-edge Chinese tech companies can demonstrate the capacities of their A.I.-driven systems to control a population >> We should strengthen communication with relevant countries and attract more countries and regions >> NARRATOR: The Chinese government would not answer questions about the Integrated Joint Operations Platform; neither would anyone from Leon As for Hikvision, it told us it’s not involved in the operation of its equipment, but “takes its responsibility to protect human rights seriously” and has hired an expert to ensure human-rights compliance >> To participate in >> NARRATOR: There’s an expanding market for this type of A.I. surveillance technology, not just in China, but around the world In Li’s meeting with Leon executives, it’s clear they’re looking to take advantage of this >> (Leon executive 2): >> (Leon executive 1): >> (engineer): >> (Li): >> NARRATOR: Already, Chinese companies– many working in Xinjiang– are supplying technology to more than 60 countries >> Xinjiang has global implications, because what we’re seeing is the early stages of a new form of governance: control through advanced, predictive, algorithmic surveillance Those systems will be exported, and that would be a massive setback to the cause of human freedom, if you like– to, to liberal democracy around the world >> We are coming No distance No disharmony You and me ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Leon is just one of many tech companies in Xinjiang working with the state to enforce surveillance Another one of the Chinese companies connected to surveillance work in Xinjiang is Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications firm, which the U.S. has classified as a threat to national security (announcer speaking Mandarin) Huawei insists that its work in Xinjiang is only “general purpose and based on global standards,” and “complies with all applicable laws.” >> Huawei’s activities in Xinjiang are actually quite extensive, despite some of the company’s claims They’re involved in public-security projects, they’re involved in cloud-computing projects Huawei’s activities are directly connected to the human-rights violations that we’re seeing unfold in Xinjiang We’re talking about a police state where many people are confined in camps, but even the people who aren’t are living virtually in a, in a prison ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Our undercover colleague, Li, is now safely out of Xinjiang and China >> (Li): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: After Li left Xinjiang, there was dramatic news In December 2019, amid increasing international scrutiny, the Chinese government

suddenly announced that everyone in the camps had been released >> (Shohrat Zakir): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: There has not been any independent verification of China’s announcement, and the government wouldn’t give us any additional information about the releases (bell tolling) (boy shouting happily) >> NARRATOR: Many Uyghurs living abroad are skeptical of the Chinese government claims (Gulzire and boy talking) >> (Gulzire): >> NARRATOR: Gulzire has heard through a contact in China that her sister Gulgine might have been one of those released from detention >> (Gulzire): ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Back in Kazakhstan, Muslims who have left Xinjiang say that when detainees are released from the camps, they emerge transformed >> (Sholpan): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: We last met Sadyrzhan on the Chinese-Kazakhstan border a year ago He’s still trying to find out exactly what’s happened to his wife in Xinjiang >> (Sadyrzhan): ♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: He believes she was released from detention, but doesn’t know where she is now The only thing he’s heard is this message she sent to a mutual contact >> (Muyeser): >> (Sadyrzhan): >> (talking, laughing) >> (Sadyrzhan): >> NARRATOR: He’s also seen photos of his wife, which were posted on Chinese social media >> (whining)

>> (Sadyrzhan): ♪ ♪ >> (speaking local language) >> (Sadyrzhan): (children singing in Russian): (all talking in background) (Fatima singing in Russian): Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH >> For more on this and other “Frontline” programs, visit our website at ♪ ♪ FRONTLINE’s, “China Undercover” is available on Amazon Prime Video ♪ ♪