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

War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

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

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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What The Philippines Must Do To Defend Itself From China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Sannie Evan Malala

A Philippine flag flutters as the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen anchored off Manila bay on June 26, 2018. – A US aircraft carrier visited the Philippines on June 26, the third such call in four months, as its admiral hailed America’s “enduring presence” in a region where China’s military build-up had raised tensions. Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images.

The Philippines is strategically located in Southeast Asia, at the fault-line between Communist China and the democratic nations of the Americas and Europe. In the north is East Asia, full of wealthy market democracies in increasing conflict with China. To the southwest are countries seeking to defend their exclusive economic zones from China, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. As China’s power grows, the fault-line is widening and trying to straddle the middle will only result in our falling into the chasm. The Philippines must choose a side – subservience to China or joining a coalition of the willing in defense of each country’s independence and democracy from the Chinese hegemon. The Philippines has yet to take advantage of its full potential and has become economically poor and militarily weak, primarily due to corruption, internal armed struggle, and its growing relationship with China. For the Philippines to avoid being a satellite of China, this is what we must do. Continue reading

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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Genocide as Nation Building: China’s Historically Evolving Policy in East Turkistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By Rukiye Turdush, Uyhgur Research Institute

This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows a man walking past a screen showing images of China’s President Xi Jinping in Kashgar, East Turkistan (called “Xinjiang” by China). China has enforced a massive security crackdown in Xinjiang, where between one and three million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are estimated to be held in a network of internment camps that Beijing describes as “vocational education centres”. They are aimed at erasing non-Han and non-CCP identity under the guise of steering people away from religious extremism. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

At Nankai University in 2003, Chinese professor Ai Yue Jing said, “Our great culture can assimilate any other nation or culture, we can change and absorb good one torture and kill bad one”. These words ushered in the new era of China’s “nation building” project in East Turkistan. [1]

Three million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in East Turkistan (“Xinjiang”) are incarcerated in Chinese concentration camps and face the prospect of being killed and deported to China’s secret inland prisons as a part of the country’s ongoing genocide.[2] According to the report Genocide in East Turkistan published by the Uyghur Research Institute this year, China’s ethnic policy in East Turkistan falls into at least four of the five acts defined as genocide by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. [3] Eye-witness accounts, media reports, and testimonials of relatives of the victims have verified claims of the existence of torture and death in concentration camps,[4] as well as China’s policy of objectifying Uyghurs through experimentation in high–tech mass surveillance systems that make use of QR codes, biometrics, artificial intelligence, phone spyware, and big data.[5] China’s policies towards the Uyghurs have created horror and demoralization, destroying their belief in a world of right and wrong. Consequently, the deteriorated mental health of Uyghurs in East Turkistan has indirectly impacted on their relatives in the Uyghur diaspora. Many of them have already reported constant crying, appetite loss, sleep deprivation, loss of concentration, depression, and frequent nightmares.[6] Continue reading

Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Democratizing China Should Be The U.S. Priority

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Protestors hold placards and illuminated smartphones beside a large banner calling for democracy during a protest in Hong Kong, China, on June 26, 2019. Some protesters held signs calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to save Hong Kong. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. goals in relation to China, our biggest national security threat, tend to array along three main axes: military, diplomatic, and economic. But in deference to the failed strategy of engagement, we don’t use the significant normative and ideological power of democratization as a multiplier on these battlefields, nor does the prospect of democratizing China factor sufficiently in our cost-benefit analyses.

Militarily, we prioritize defense from China, but other than ongoing military support to Taiwan and the Tibet campaign of 1957-72,[1] we have not used our substantial military resources to promote democracy in China, for example in the rebellious zones of Xinjiang or Hong Kong. Economically, we prioritize U.S. market share in China, IP protection, and beating China’s GDP, technology and industrial strength. But we don’t condition our China trade on our lowest priorities, human rights and democracy.

In the short term our military and economic priorities are correct, but given the Chinese Communist Party’s growing strength globally, we must increase the prioritization of democracy as a long-term end goal in China, and we need to reevaluate opportunities to use our still substantial but relatively diminishing military and economic power to bring democracy to China. Continue reading

Break Their Roots: Evidence for China’s Parent-Child Separation Campaign in Xinjiang

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Adrian Zenz, Independent Researcher [1]

Introduction

A Uyghur woman holds her son in Kashgar old town, northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, July 8, 2017. Over 10 million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims live in Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has for decades eroded the Uyghur language, traditions, and cultural identity, leading to civil unrest. The CCP cracked down harshly, including through detention of up to 1.5 million Turkic Muslims in reeducation camps. Children of detained parents are often kept in highly secure facilities for children as young as infants, as detailed in this article. Photo by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In spring 2017, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under its new Party secretary Chen Quanguo embarked on an unprecedented internment campaign. Subsequently, up to 1.5 million predominantly Turkic minorities (notably Uyghur and Kazakh) were swept into different types of political re-education, detention and “training” camps.[2]

About half a year after the onset of this horrifying campaign, first reports started to emerge that the children of so-called “double-detained” parents were being placed in state care. Due to a complete lack of official reporting and the state’s denial that this internment campaign is even taking place, it has been extremely difficult to ascertain the scale and exact nature of such intergenerational separation. Some informants claim to know that these children are kept in orphanages. Others, including some of the affected parents, were told that they are being sheltered in regular public schools with boarding facilities. This includes boarding preschools that can care for children who are younger than the regular school age.

The possibility that the Chinese state is implementing a larger-scale or even systematic policy of intergenerational separation of parents and children is a highly emotional topic among the affected exile communities. Few issues have the potential to inspire more concern about cultural or physical state-sponsored genocide than this one. Notably, Xinjiang’s government appears to be as nervous about the children’s situation as they are about the internment camps. When Associated Press (AP) reporters went to Hotan City’s “Kindness Kindergarten”, which reportedly shelters four children of one of their Uyghur informants and photographed the facility, they were immediately surrounded by armed police and ordered to delete their visual evidence.[3]

In the context of this urgent human rights crisis and challenging research context, this article attempts to systematically present and analyze all available evidence regarding state-initiated intergenerational separation in the context of Xinjiang’s political re-education and internment campaign. This evidence consists of government policy and implementation directives, different kinds of official reports and related state or private media articles, educational statistics, public construction and procurement bids, village-based work team reports, and official propaganda pieces that extol the benefits of the so-called “vocational training”.

Government documents provide clear evidence that there are large numbers of children with one or both parents in some form of internment. These documents specifically refer to “couples where both partners are detained in re-education” (夫妻双方被收教), or “couples where both partners are in vocational training center” (夫妻双方在教培中心).[4] They also testify to the fact that this has developed into a concrete and urgent societal issue. From early 2018, the state began to issue urgent directives on how to deal with the virtually orphaned children of single or “double-detained” parents, be it through special care institutions or the regular education system. Local governments began to require schools to provide one-on-one “psychological counseling” and to proactively scan the state of mind of students with parents in detention in order to preempt trouble. Schools must now be prepared to mobilize entire teams of teachers, staff and other students to deal with such students when they are in distress, as well as taking measures for making up for their loss of family ties. Other evidence shows that schools have developed “emergency response plans” that include dealing with students with detained parents in a timely and effective manner in order to prevent violent incidents.

Additionally, the state has issued very detailed forms that are to be used by local authorities to log the situation of children with one or both parents in extrajudicial internment or prison. This data, which is fed into extensive databases, indicates that in some Uyghur majority regions, significant numbers of children are without the care of both parents. Government data shows that just in one particular township in such a region, well over 400 minors have both parents in some form of internment, with many others having one parent interned.[5] Children whose parents are in prison, detention, re-education or “training” are classified into a special needs category that is eligible for state subsidies and for receiving “centralized care”. This “care” can take place in public boarding schools or in special children’s shelters.

This does not mean, however, that these children are well taken care of. The real-life report of a Han Chinese volunteer teacher, posted on the Jiangxi Teacher’s College website, paints a harrowing picture of the consequences of systematic intergenerational separation.[6] The young man taught in an impoverished rural primary school in southern Xinjiang, where pupils were mostly without parents due to seasonal work or internment in vocational training camps. The young teacher wrote that these Uyghur children were in an extremely pitiful state, wearing thin clothes despite freezing December weather. The classroom was filled with an unbearable stench because the children neither washed nor changed their clothes.

In addition, the government has issued propaganda pieces that argue that the children of detained parents derive significant benefits from this separation, that both parents and children need to “study”, or that the “left-behind children” of parents who “work” are “happily growing up under the loving care of the Party and the government”.[7]

Overall, this article presents several key areas of evidence that in combination provide significant and potentially incriminating evidence for a coordinated state campaign to promote different forms of intergenerational separation. Xinjiang has not only created most of the necessary preconditions for systematically creating varying and substantial degrees of intergenerational separation; when placed in the wider context of Xinjiang’s securitization drive, the combined available evidence tells a story of the state’s dramatic race against time to create a vast and multi-layered care system that enables it to provide full-time or near full-time care for all children from a very young age (in several instances for infants that are only a few months old). In some Uyghur majority population regions in southern Xinjiang, preschool enrolment more than quadrupled in recent years, exceeding the average national enrolment growth rate by over 12 times.

In particular, this state care is taking place in highly secured, centralized boarding facilities, independently of any guardianship that these children may or may not have. Driven by multi-billion dollar budgets, tight deadlines, and sophisticated digital database systems, this unprecedented campaign has enabled Xinjiang’s government to assimilate and indoctrinate children in closed environments by separating them from their parents. This separation can take various forms and degrees, including full daycare during work days, entire work weeks, and longer-term full-time separation. When taking into account the threat that Xinjiang’s education system makes children report on their parents, it is safe to assume that parental influence in general, and intergenerational cultural and religious transmission in particular, are being drastically reduced. In some instances, parental influence is quite possibly almost completely eliminated.

The available evidence presented in this article can be viewed from four angles. Firstly, existing witness accounts from former detainees and their relatives indicate quite consistently that children whose parents are in some form of internment are put into either orphanages or boarding schools, with the latter case being more prevalent. Secondly, government plans show that the state is requiring local authorities and schools to comprehensively deal with children whose parents are in some form of internment. Thirdly, official documents testify to an entire set of policies, most of them initiated within the first six months of Chen Quanguo’s deployment to Xinjiang, that are designed to systematically boost the ability of the state to house children of all ages in increasingly centralized and highly securitized educational boarding facilities. Fourthly, government reports and construction bids give evidence of the construction of such highly secured boarding facilities in the public education system and through special child protection centers. All this took place in the second half of 2018, at a time when Xinjiang’s internment campaign was affecting more and more population segments, and when re-education and other detention facilities were expanding significantly in both number and size.[8]

It is only with what I refer to as the weaponization of education and social care systems that the region’s hair-raising political re-education and transformation drive is achieving its terrifying degree of seamless comprehensiveness. Increasing degrees of intergenerational separation are very likely a deliberate strategy and crucial element in the state’s systematic campaign of social re-engineering and cultural genocide in Xinjiang. Continue reading

Celebrating Independence In Al Anbar, Iraq

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Heath Hansen

Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in Summer 2007. Photo: Heath Hansen.

Even though it was only 0500, the heat was already approaching the high 90’s and I could feel my sticky uniform only too well, sandwiched between skin and body armor. The Humvee engines were idling and the smell of JP-8 fuel stung my nostrils. “Hansen, 2nd platoon’s electronic warfare vehicle is down. We’ll need you in the lead element for the mission. You’re truck commander.”

“Roger, sir,” I replied to my platoon leader, “My truck’s ready, I’ll let the crew know.” More than four years had passed since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and we were still trying to secure independence for this country. It was the summer of 2007, in Anbar Province, and my company was headed out for another assignment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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