Cerberus, I’ve done a little of research into Chinese society, and I totally believe they would do this.
It’s not the Chinese central government so much, they give out vague orders and policies, and then leave it up to local officials in provincial governments to implement them. The central government doesn’t really care, they just want the problem “dealt with”.
Some of these provinces are pretty poor, or come from a tradition of being pretty poor only 20 years, so they have experienced a hard life and don’t have much sympathy for Western notions of “human rights”. There’s so many people in China, human life wasn’t worth much, especially 20 years ago when China was still poor.
You take a look at what they were doing to their own people in the 80’s, they totally wouldn’t have a problem doing this to a foreign ethnic group that was causing them problems, and threatening the central government. China has an issue with independent religions and groups who oppose the Communist Party, and the Uigurs meet both those criteria.
I have actually talked to a Chinese person about this, and their attitude is that it’s not really happening, just Western propaganda, but even if it was happening they wouldn’t really care and it would mostly be justified because of the intolerable actions of the Uigurs. In addition to the perception that the Uigurs are pretty much muslim terrorists (which exists in both China and the West), in China there is plenty of additional government propaganda that demonizes them, far beyond and in addition to the terrorist issue. So the attitude would pretty much be that they are sort of getting whatever they deserve.
This Chinese person still believes the government of the Dalai Lama was evil and the Chinese Communists liberated Tibetans from the evil monks.
So you can imagine what he would think about the Uigurs.