Forced Labor and Social Control in Xinjiang

Just as the Chinese government has announced that detainees at internment camps in Xinjiang have “graduated” – without offering any evidence or explanation – researcher Adrian Zenz has released a paper examining the use of forced labor in . As Zenz explains it, officials have released detainees into forced or involuntary labor camps, as part of a larger effort toward social control and under the guise of “poverty alleviation.” Zenz’s full paper is accessible from the Journal of Political Risk; he also wrote up a summary of his findings for Foreign Policy:

Since spring 2017, the Chinese government has placed vast numbers of Turkic minorities into internment camps, which it refers to as “reeducation camps,” in the northwestern Xinjiang region. This March, it claimed that these supposed students would gradually be released into work placements. Data such as this supports this claim, but not in the way that the government is trying to sell it. Rather, it is part of a rapidly growing set of evidence for how Beijing’s long-term strategy to subdue its northwestern minorities is predicated upon a perverse and intrusive combination of coercive labor, intergenerational separation, and complete social control.

In Xinjiang, state-mandated poverty alleviation goes along with different forms of involuntary labor placements. Under the banner of “industry-driven poverty alleviation,” minorities are being torn away from their own jobs and families. Just as brainwashing is masked as “job training,” forced labor is concealed behind the euphemistic facade of “poverty alleviation.”

The irony of placing interned Uighurs into labor-intensive is that many of them were extremely skilled businesspeople, intellectuals, or scientists. Several years ago, flourishing Uighur businesses abroad were severely impacted by seizures of passports, and Uighurs have been progressively forced out of eastern Chinese labor markets. While there are many Uighurs living marginal economic existences, this group are not people who need unskilled labor jobs paid at around 85 cents per hour.

But for Beijing, the real aim is not to improve Uighurs’ lives. It is to achieve so-called social stability in its most extreme form imaginable: the state controlling the educational, work, and care placement of every family member, however old they are. [Source]

Allegations of forced labor at Xinjiang camps have been circulating for the past year, with implications for clothing manufacturers and others who export to the U.S. and other countries. Juozapas Bagdonas reported last month for The Diplomat:

In December 2018, Badger Sportswear was accused of ordering a shipment of 1.5 million units from Hetian Taida, a manufacturer known to employ Uyghur detainees in its factories. This year, the retailer Costco was also found out to be buying apparel from Hetian Taida, which prompted the Trump administration to halt all shipments from the supplier on October 1. A quick glance in the records of ImportGenius shows that the last two shipments ordered by a U.S. company from Hetian Taida were made in September 21 and 26 by KHQ Investment LLC, an apparel wholesaler based in New York’s Empire State Building. Unlike the cases of Costco and Badger, the two orders of polyester blanket sleepers likely made by Muslim detainees in Xinjiang and bought by a company with an office located in the famous bastion of American business has so far escaped media attention.

[…] Just a simple keyword search on the tracking system can reveal which companies are likely involved in forced labor in Xinjiang. Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories was registered in the Beijing Industrial Park in Hotan’s Lop county on January 19, 2018. A re-education camp in the same compound was identified by Radio Free Asia as the location of the famous picture showing hundreds of detainees listening to a de-radicalization speech. According to Haolin’s spokesman, the company has already employed 5,000 new workers in its first year of business – more than 2 percent of the entire county’s population. Data from ImportGenius shows that the company has made a total of 159 international shipments, which first went through ports in Vietnam and on to buyers from four U.S. cities. [Source]

As Zenz pointed out in his article, many of those being interned for “vocational training” and/or manual labor are actually often already highly educated and employed individuals who are sent to the camps. Radio Free Asia reports on Uyghur historian Iminjan Seydin who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison after being held at a camp. Most of those being held in the camps have not been officially charged or tried for any crime:

Seydin, while a Muslim, was not particularly religious and generally adhered to government guidelines on faith—putting his loyalty to the Communist Party before the central tenets of Islam—according to his daughter, Samira Imin, who has lived in exile in the U.S. since 2014 and recently spoke with RFA’s Uyghur Service.

[…] But despite toeing the party line, Seydin was called back to Urumqi in May 2017 and detained by the Public Security Bureau, which did not provide his family with any information about where he was being held, Imin said, citing contacts in the XUAR, adding that she had last made contact with her father while he was in Hotan in April of the same year.

[…] RFA was able to obtain a document from an anonymous source in the XUAR which shows that Seydin was initially held at a facility that makes up part of the region’s network of 1,300-1,400 internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held 1.8 million and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

The document, entitled “Notice on the Censuring of Iminjan Seydin” and issued by the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in November 2019, said that in February 2019 Urumqi’s Tengritagh (Tianshan) District Court found Seydin guilty of “inciting extremism” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, five years’ deprivation of political rights, and a fine of 500,000 yuan (U.S. $71,000), although it cites no evidence of his crimes.

In its notice, the school says it ended Seydin’s employment contract after he was detained and placed in a camp, dissolved his relationship to the institute, and terminated his salary and benefits. [Source]

Another prominent Uyghur academic, Rahile Dawut, disappeared two years ago and her whereabouts are still unknown, though she is presumed to be in a camp.

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