Beyond the Camps: Beijing’s Long-Term Scheme of Coercive Labor, Poverty Alleviation and Social Control in Xinjiang

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

By Adrian Zenz, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

1.0 Introduction

442 rural surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan, Xinjiang China, are sent off to work in an industrial park in Korla in a “centralized fashion”.

After recruiting a hundred or more thousand police forces, installing massive surveillance systems, and interning vast numbers of predominantly Turkic minority population members, many have been wondering about Beijing’s next step in its so-called “war on Terror” in Xinjiang. Since the second half of 2018, limited but apparently growing numbers of detainees have been released into different forms of forced labor. In this report it is argued based on government documents that the state’s long-term stability maintenance strategy in Xinjiang is predicated upon a perverse and extremely intrusive combination of forced or at least involuntary training and labor, intergenerational separation and social control over family units. Much of this is being implemented under the heading and guise of “poverty alleviation”.

Below, the author identifies three distinct flow schemes by which the state seeks to place the vast majority of adult Uyghurs and other minority populations, both men and women, into different forms of coercive or at least involuntary, labor-intensive factory work. This is achieved through a combination of internment camp workshops, large industrial parks, and village-based satellite factories. While the parents are being herded into full-time work, their children are put into full-time (at least full day-time) education and training settings. This includes children below preschool age (infants and toddlers), so that ethnic minority women are being “liberated” and “freed” to engage in full-time wage labor. Notably, both factory and educational settings are essentially state-controlled environments that facilitate ongoing political indoctrination while barring religious practices. As a result, the dissolution of traditional, religious and family life is only a matter of time. The targeted use of village work teams and village-based satellite factories means that these “poverty alleviation” and social re-engineering projects amount to a grand scheme that penetrates every corner of ethnic minority society with unprecedented pervasiveness.

Consequently, it is argued that Beijing’s grand scheme of forced education, training and labor in Xinjiang simultaneously achieves at least five main goals in this core region of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): maintain the minority population in state-controlled environments, inhibit intergenerational cultural transmission, achieve national poverty reduction goals, promote economic growth along the BRI, and bring glory to the Party by achieving all of these four aims in a way that is ideologically consistent with the core tenets of Communist thought – using labor to transform religious minority groups towards a predominantly materialist worldview, akin to the Reform Through Labor (劳改) program. Government documents outline that the transformation of rural populations from farming to wage labor should involve not just the acquisition of new skills, but also a thorough identity and worldview change in line with Party ideology. In this context, labor is hailed as a strategic means to eradicate “extremist” ideologies.

The domestic and global implications of this grand scheme, where internment camps form only one component of a society-wide coercive social re-engineering strategy, are dramatic. Government documents blatantly boast about the fact that the labor supply from the vast internment camp network has been attracting many Chinese companies to set up production in Xinjiang, supporting the economic growth goals of the BRI.

Through the mutual pairing assistance program, 19 cities and provinces from the nation’s most developed regions are pouring billions of Chinese Yuan (RMB) into the establishment of factories in minority regions. Some of them directly involve the use of internment camp labor, while others use Uyghur women who must then leave their children in educational or day care facilities in order to engage in full time factory labor. Another aspect of Beijing’s labor schemes in the region involve the essentially mandatory relocation of large numbers of minority workers from Xinjiang to participating companies in eastern China.

Soon, many or most products made in China that rely at least in part on low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing, may contain elements of involuntary ethnic minority labor from Xinjiang.

The findings presented below call for nothing less than a global investigation of supply chains involving Chinese products or product components, and for a greatly increased scrutiny of trade flows along China’s Belt and Road. They also warrant a strong response from not only the international community in regards to China’s intrusive coerced social re-engineering practices among its northwestern Turkic minorities, but from China’s own civil society that should not want to see such totalitarian labor and family systems extended to all of China. Continue reading

Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading

Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: An Interview with Leszek Buszynski

The book cover of Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the US, by Dr. Leszek Buszynski. Routledge, 2019.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019

This interview with Dr. Leszek Buszynski, author of Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the U.S. (Routledge, 2019), took place by email with Dr. Anders Corr between May 31 and June 12.

Anders: What are some of your recommendations in the book?

Leszek: The recommendations are in the final chapter and have been written from the perspective of Australia as a a middle power and ally of the US.  Basically, the U.S. relies excessively on military power to counter China but this is creating the fear of a US-China clash in the region from which China benefits, particularly within ASEAN.  Scuttling the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a mistake because it is a way of bringing together the states of the region into cooperation with the U.S., Japan and Australia in a way which would offset Chinese influence.

Anders: Don’t you think that China is also creating fear with its military buildup? Wouldn’t countries like Japan and South Korea be even more fearful if they did not have the U.S. military there to protect them?

Leszek: This is not the issue, the answer is of course. But without a broader US presence in the region, one that is not just military based, regional countries such as those in ASEAN would feel the pressure to gravitate to China.  China has a way of undermining the U.S. presence and its alliance system by playing on regional fears of conflict and instability, the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte is a case in point. America has to counteract that. Continue reading

Trade Wars, Sanctions and Business Appeasement

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019 

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, addresses a U.S.-China business roundtable, comprised of U.S. and Chinese CEOs on September 23, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. The Paulson Institute, in partnership with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, co-hosted the event. Elaine Thompson-Pool/Getty Images.

In his book Appeasing Bankers, Jonathan Kirshner, the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Professor of International Political Economy at Cornell, argues that “Bankers dread war. More precisely, financial communities within states favor cautious national security strategies and are acutely averse to war and to policies that risk war.” He finds this to be a “universal” trait (at least within capitalist societies) evident throughout modern history. This should be kept in mind when watching the large swings in the stock market in response to reports about the progress, or lack of, in U.S.-China trade talks, Iranian threats and turmoil at the Mexican border. While Kirshner focuses on “stability” with an emphasis on inflation and debt accumulation, he notes the “breathtaking financial globalization” that took place in the post-Cold War period. This has made markets even more sensitive to the dynamics of a contentious international system. Fortunately, the stock market rapidly recovers from panics generated by headlines thanks to the fundamental strength of the U.S. economy.

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US-China Trade War: Time is on the Side of the US

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University

The US-China trade war has unfolded for nearly a year now. After some false hope of a quick deal, China’s backpedaling in May from earlier promises to stop requiring a technology transfer from US firms in China, and to do more to protect intellectual property, obliterated such hope. Trump’s reaction of raising new tariffs on Chinese goods, followed by China’s retaliation in kind, led to an escalation.

Bipartisan Support of Trade War with China

This escalation of the trade war, interestingly, has not unleashed criticism of President Trump in the US. Sources from the US negotiation team and those from its Chinese counterparts both verified China’s last-minute withdrawal of earlier commitments. There is little doubt that Beijing rather than Trump is to be blamed for this re-escalation. Trump’s strong response to the Chinese backpedaling instead got rare bipartisan support. Congress Democrats are on the same side with the President, judging by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweet, “Hang tough on China, President @realDonaldTrump. Don’t back down. Strength is the only way to win with China.”[1]

Figure 1. China’s External Financial Position. (Source: World Bank)

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