On April 25, 2018, WSCRC welcomed Darren Byler as presenter at the Policy Briefing Series. Currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Byler studies emerging forms of art and politics amongst urban migrants in Northwest China. His research into the securitization of the region provided fodder for his presentation at WSCRC, “China’s Uyghur Biodata Collection.”
Byler adeptly traced the emergence of current political and social trends as they parallel the phases of infrastructure buildout beginning with roads and railways it the 20th Century. Television and radio arrived in the early 2000s, followed by the arrival of 3G networks and smart phones in 2010. Byler explained that this period marked the beginning of trends which altered the social, religious and political landscapes of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and led to the securitization being experienced today.
Physical and digital proximity to surrounding Turkic and Islamic cultures contributed to an increased interest in Islamic pious practice, which Byler noted has been heavily conflated with violence and political disturbance. Consequently, security measures have increased drastically in the past decade and pious Islamic practices and symbols have been outlawed. Police presence has intensified with “convenient police stations” being found every 400-500 meters throughout the province’s capital city of Urumqi. Redundant security checks have become a part of daily life with ID and facial scanning, checkpoints on roads, and more recently, the collection of biometric data from 18.8 million Uyghur people.
Byler discussed how security procedures have both created jobs and attracted investment from artificial intelligence companies. Additionally, while Uyghur people are subject to more strenuous screening than other ethnic groups in the region, young Uyghurs are often recruited into the police force. It remains to be seen how the massive amounts of data being collected from security screenings will be utilized and what precedents Xinjiang’s securitization will set for other regions or countries, Byler explained.
Special thanks to Darren Byler for sharing his findings at the Policy Briefing Series.
Summary Author: Trudy Boothman