As repression mounts, China feels increasingly like North Korea

Walking around, I was overcome by the same sense of sadness mixed with rage that I felt when reporting in Pyongyang. I knew it was a kind of “Truman Show,” but I couldn’t see the edges of the set. I could see a blankness in people’s eyes and feel a palpable heaviness in the air.

Had any of the people I saw in Kashgar this month been affected by the “reeducation” campaign? Almost certainly. But I couldn’t ask them. Just as in Pyongyang, I didn’t try to interview people on the street or in stores, as I would do anywhere else in the world.

Doing so could place those people in grave danger if it was discovered they had talked to a foreigner, and a foreign journalist no less. I would have loved to talk to someone who had been through the camps — but I was conscious of the risks I posed to people if I tried to discuss sensitive subjects. Or talk to them at all.

So I did something anathema to a journalist: I didn’t strike up conversations on the street. I didn’t ask questions in stores or parks or taxis. Except for arguments with security officials, I didn’t dig. All I could do was watch and be watched.