While Qiu's published paper and contemporary contracting documents (detailed in the next post) clearly demonstrated to the widespread proliferation of these facilities, the Chinese government refused to acknowledge their existence as word trickled out from families of those detained and refugees in 2017 and early 2018. The official line was there were simply a few vocational training schools for already-convicted criminals.
The following is a transcription of the original Chinese and English interpretation Hu Lianhe's statement regarding allegations of mass internment before United Nations 96th Session Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination on August 13, 2018. The video can be found here; the timing is according to the English interpreter's speech.
1:08:15 People of all ethnic groups live and work in peace and contentment, and the freedom of religious belief is fully guaranteed. 1:08:27 There is no arbitrary detention or lack of freedom [of] religious belief. The so-called 'Xinjiang is a no-rights zone' is completely against the facts.
* Had trouble making out this syllable; Hu's accent is a bit strange. Sounds more like 羁, possibly? Either way, the overall meaning remains the same.
1:08:45 There are no such things as reeducation centers. It must be pointed out that Xinjiang is a victim of terrorism, in an effort to secure the life and property of all ethnic groups in the region, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has taken—has undertaken a special campaign to crack down on violent terrorist activities according to law, 1:09:14 and put on trial and imprisoned a number of criminals involved in severe offenses in accordance with the law.
Leaked documents, such as the Xinjiang Papers, show the Party explicitly considers mass internment and reeducation to be separate from the criminal justice system.
1:09:27 With respect to criminals involved only in minor offenses, authorities provide them with a system of education by assigning them to vocational, education and employment training centers to acquire [and] implement skills and legal knowledge, with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation and reintegration.
Recall that Qiu 2017 states all of these different names of programs are for the same detention programs. This is an important detail: later, the government will admit that actually, the camps are not just for criminals—in fact, the narrative changes; the “students” are expressly not criminals, but people who come in voluntarily for treatment of their extremist thought. In an October 2018 interview, chairman (governor) of Xinjiang Shohrat Zakir would go on to say that the camps were in fact for “those suspected of minor criminal offenses but [who] do not have to be subject to penalties or can be exempted from criminal punishment”.
Hu goes on to flatly deny the 1,000,000 detained number as well before moving on to discussing freedom of religion and the protection of "normal religious activities."