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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China and the War of Shipyards and Factories

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese aircraft carrier group, including J-15 fighters and helicopters, trains in the South China Sea in late December, 2016. Visual China Group via Getty Images.

Satellite images show that China is making rapid progress in building its new Type 02 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The Type 02 is a larger design than Beijing’s first two carriers which were based on Soviet-era light carriers of about 67,000 tons and which lacked catapults for launching first-rate fighters. They used “ski jumps” to put planes into the air, limiting them to the small, short-range J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter-bombers. The Russian-built/China modified Type 01 can only carry 24 of these warbirds, though the China-built 01A, which is about to deploy, may be able to carry a few more. The Type 02 is a much larger design more in line with American carriers. At an estimated 80,000+ tons, it will be able to carry 40+ fighters as well as supporting aircraft such as early warning and control planes. In comparison, the typical U.S. Navy carrier has 60+ fighters along with other support aircraft. They are also nuclear-powered which the Chinese carriers are not. This does not mean, however, that American naval-air superiority is assured. Continue reading

Greenpeace Working to Close Rare Earth Processing Facility in Malaysia: the World’s Only Major REE Processing Facility in Competition with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Michael K. Cohen

Partial screenshot from the Greenpeace website, taken on 10/3/2019, detailing Greenpeace’s leading role in the ‘Stop Lynas’ campaign. Source: Greenpeace.

Rare earth – the colorful metals derived from 17 extraordinarily hard-to-mine chemical elements – are a little-known part of all of our lives. They are crucial elements of mobile phones, flat screen televisions and more than 200 other consumer electronic devices that we use every day.

But these exotic elements are needed for more than just phones and televisions. Their lightweight properties, and unique magnetic attributes, are indispensable to military assets that use sonar, radar or guidance systems, lasers, electronic displays, and myriad other mechanisms.

The vast majority of rare earths that countries need to protect themselves are produced by one country: The People’s Republic of China. And it does not appear that the situation will change in the near future. China has in recent years worked to monopolize the production of these elements as a strategic resource.

China has made rare earths available to countries around the world that need them, but that could abruptly change. Chinese state-controlled media has warned that sales of rare earths to the United States could be restricted as part of a new front in the ongoing trade war. Continue reading

Arctic Enterprise: The China Dream Goes North

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

By Jonathan Hall

Arctic Ocean, ship on Barents Sea. Getty.

Until recent years, harsh weather and unmanageable navigation routes have precluded all but the most determined crews from venturing through the Arctic. As climate change continues to take effect, however, warming temperatures are opening up the region to new opportunities. In 2017, for example, merchant ships were able to pass through a shipping lane, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), for the first time without icebreaker escort.

The NSR has since been discussed as a logistical windfall that will revolutionize the world of international shipping. The often-cited reasoning is the potential 5,000 mi (8,000 km), or 10-15 days saved in transit, as compared to more traditionally used routes such as the Strait of Malacca, or the Suez Canal. While the NSR is only open three months per year, climatologists predict it will be traversable for 9 months out of the year by 2030, and completely ice free within the next two decades. As these changes are coming into effect, no state seems to understand the geopolitical advantage a strong presence in the Arctic will bring more so than the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Continue reading

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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Xi Killed Convergence: the American China Consensus is Gone

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

By Paul S. Giarra

Chris Ware illustration of Xi Jinping. (MCT via Getty Images)

Two open letters to the President on China strategy have appeared recently. The first, “China is not an enemy”,[1] was published in the Washington Post on July 3rd. The second, “Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump”, appeared in these pages on July 18th.[2] The former argued that considering China as an enemy would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The second posited that we had already turned that corner with China, and that the president should continue with his hard line policies toward Beijing (Full disclosure: the author signed the latter open letter).

There’s more to these letters, but they do not represent an argument; rather, they are a transition from an old conventional wisdom to a new reality. As Nikki Haley wrote in Foreign Affairs last week [3], the theory of convergence with China expressed in the Washington Post letter and practiced in the United States for 30 years has been fully discredited. “Let’s face it: Xi has killed the notion of convergence.”

Why it has taken so long to get to this point will have to be left to the social historians, but the China policy transition now underway has been reverberating throughout the Washington policy community for some time. Continue reading

Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump

The US Constitution and flag. Photo: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

Dear President Trump,

Over America’s exceptional history, successive generations have risen to the challenge of protecting and furthering our founding principles, and defeating existential threats to our liberties and those of our allies. Today, our generation is challenged to do the same by a virulent and increasingly dangerous threat to human freedoms – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through the nation it misrules:  the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The Chinese Communists’ stated ambitions are antithetical to America’s strategic interests, and the PRC is increasingly taking actions that imperil the United States and our allies. The past forty years during which America pursued an open policy of “engagement” with the PRC have contributed materially to the incremental erosion of U.S. national security.

This cannot be permitted to continue.

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