China needs an exit strategy from Xinjiang

China needs an exit strategy from Xinjiang

Xi should release all Uighur Muslims, and pay compensation of up to $14,000 each

One of the most influential ideas of behavioral economics is that losses loom much larger in the human psyche than gains. So much so that we are often unable to recognize a lost cause.

Recent history is replete with examples. America’s unsuccessful wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan dragged on endlessly because U.S. leaders were unwilling to admit their mistakes. When the stakes are high, as they always when it comes to war, aversion to losing can have calamitous consequences.

All of which makes China’s incarceration of more than a million mostly Muslim Uighurs in the restive multiethnic province of Xinjiang all the more puzzling. Not only is there scant evidence to support the view that mass incarceration, ideological indoctrination, and draconian security measures will help main stability in Xinjiang. Locking up hundreds of thousands of able-bodied men will add to labor shortages, exacerbating discontent among the rest of the population.

Stringent security measures fuel people’s anger in other ways. While locking up radicalized Muslims will likely harden their extremist views, putting innocent people in prison will no doubt make them more susceptible to extremism. If China had a manageable security problem in Xinjiang before it started its mass incarceration program, it could now face a full-blown insurgency if and when it begins releasing Muslims held in its camps. Unless it intends to keep them there indefinitely.