The Govt has rounded up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities into re-education camps in the tightly-controlled region, but it has also created a parallel universe for visitors
FROM the expansive dunes of the Taklamakan Desert to the snow-capped peaks of Tianshan, Chinese authorities are selling troubled Xinjiang as a tourist idyll, welcoming travellers even as they send locals to internment camps. The Government has rounded up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking minorities into re-education camps in the tightly-controlled region in China’s northwest, but it has also created a parallel universe for visitors, who are only shown a carefully curated version of traditional customs and culture.
In the Old Town of Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road city, smiling food vendors serve mouthwatering lamb skewers, while children play in the streets. “It didn’t look to me like -- unless you were picked up and put in a camp -- that these Uighur communities seemed to be living in some kind of fear,” said William Lee, who has taught at universities in China for 10 years and visited the region in June. “That’s just my impression,” he added.
Armed police and frequent checkpoints have not dampened the flow of vacationers visiting the region, which in 2018 saw a 40 percent increase year-on-year of visits -- mainly from domestic tourists -- outstripping the national average by 25 percent, according to official figures. Business has grown steadily over the years mainly because “Xinjiang is very stable”, explained Wu Yali, who runs a travel agency in the region. Though tourists are not used to the high-level of security at first, “they adapt after a few days,” she said.