A scarifying dive into China’s pernicious spy state.
Enlisting interviews with Uyghur refugees in Turkey, where he now lives, American investigative journalist Cain digs into the “sophisticated surveillance dystopia” set up by the Chinese government. Unprecedented advances in artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and other technologies have allowed the state to monitor and control the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. This is just the beginning, warns the author, whose previous book, Samsung Rising (2020), exposed many of the secrets of the South Korean tech giant. In his latest investigation, Cain was determined to infiltrate China’s crackdown in Xinjiang, where the state accuses the native Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim people, of the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. With China’s aim to revive the historic Silk Road via its ambitious, $1 trillion One Belt, One Road initiative, it needed to pacify the restive region of Xinjiang, its most sensitive border. However, beginning in 2014, China escalated its counterterrorism tactics to unseen levels of brutality. As Cain writes, “China’s goal was to erase one people’s identity, culture, and history and to achieve a total assimilation of millions of people.” The author systematically breaks down these methods, including the creation of “vocational training centers” and “reeducation centers,” which, by 2017, housed more than 1.5 million Uyghurs. Cain’s main protagonist, “Maysem,” chronicles the increased monitoring of her family and home and tells about how she was placed in a concentration camp because of her supposed propensity for crime. This was based on “predictive policing,” in which AI uses an algorithm “to guess who might commit a crime in the future.” In addition to hundreds of hours of personal interviews with 168 Uyghurs, the author also examines documentation suggesting “deep connivance of many Chinese technology firms in creating the monstrosity in Xinjiang.” And the monster continues to expand, with Chinese tentacles reaching outside its borders to bring refugees back into the fold. Cain also tracks how similar technology is being deployed in the U.S.
A prescient, alarming work on the overreach of technology and state power.