China has nearly doubled its spending on security in Xinjiang in the past year, as it ramps up control in the far western region.
Why China spends huge amounts on internal security
It spent $9.2 billion last year, up 93% from $4.8 billion in 2016, according to the latest official figures.
The Chinese government has tightened security and surveillance to squash separatist movements in the region. Across the country, China is spending more money on domestic security than on its entire military, which is the largest force in the world.
Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany, has been tracking how much China spends on policing its own people.
In his latest article for China Brief, Zenz documented a sharp rise in annual expenditure, especially in the border regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
“We see a real push for greater social control that pre-empts any social discontent," Dr. Zenz said.
Human rights groups and international media have reported on the expanding security operation in Xinjiang, where residents are closely monitored and go through numerous security checks on the streets.
A tourist from Beijing who traveled to the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar in southwestern Xinjiang last year told Inkstone that armored paramilitary and SWAT police were routinely deployed around the neighborhoods.
Every day at noon, shopkeepers rushed onto the streets for their daily anti-terror drills, all wearing helmets and carrying wooden clubs, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I felt as if I were in another country, but the local people seemed to have got used to all this.”
Since 2010, China has spent more money on internal public security than on national defense.
Last year, investment in public security exceeded military defense spending by an estimated $31 billion.
Both Xinjiang and the Tibet Autonomous Region have experienced deadly uprisings.
In Xinjiang, ethnic tension has led to hundreds of deaths in the past decade.
The Chinese government says its security operation keeps the region safe from religious extremists and separatists.
But human rights groups have blamed political repression and greater controls for causing further resentment among the ethnic groups that were already complaining of cultural and religious repression.
Michael Clarke, an expert on Xinjiang at the Australian National University, said the Communist Party risked stimulating radicalization by blocking channels for minorities to express grievances.
"The scope of spending on internal security also suggests that the party is much less secure than perhaps previously thought," Clarke said.
After Xinjiang and Tibet, the Chinese capital Beijing gets the most in terms of security spending per person.
The country’s political center regularly beefs up security during political gatherings and international events.
Last year, security spending per capita in Tibet nearly reached US levels of spending per capita, even though costs are much lower in China.
James Leibold, an expert on China's policies on ethnic minorities at the La Trobe University in Australia, said most of the money was used to pay for security personnel and infrastructure, such as police cars and weapons.
An increasing amount was also being spent on advanced surveillance technologies like facial recognition and machine learning, he said.
"China is well on its way to becoming a police state, and here Xinjiang and Tibet are leading the way," Leibold said.
"The goal is a fully automated, predictive policing and surveillance model that can eliminate any resistance before it surfaces."
When security spending figures for China and US are adjusted to account for different costs of living or purchasing power parity (PPP), the differences become even starker.
On a PPP-adjusted basis, China’s domestic security spending last year translated into about $349 billion, more than twice than the estimated $165 billion in the US.
On the same basis, an equivalent of $713 was spent on every resident in Tibet last year, compared with $687 in Xinjiang and $511 in America.
The Chinese government has vowed to carry on its security campaigns in the border regions.