Xinjiang Labor Transfer Scheme Constitutes Crimes Against Humanity: Report

New documents show that the ‘poverty alleviation’ scheme aims to thin out minority populations.
Xinjiang Labor Transfer Scheme Constitutes Crimes Against Humanity: Report Farmers pick cotton in a field in Hami, in China's Xinjiang region, Oct. 14, 2018.

Labor transfers within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and to other parts of China meet the definition of forced labor and could be classified as crimes against humanity in an international court of law, according to a new report by German researcher Adrian Zenz.

Entitled “Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang’s Cross-Regional Labor Transfer Program,” the report published Tuesday by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation cited new evidence from Chinese sources as showing that the scheme not only serves economic purposes but is intended to “forcibly displace ethnic minority populations from their heartlands.”

It said that the system is aimed at “intentionally reducing … population density” in ethnic minority regions and cites several experts in international criminal law as saying that there are “credible grounds for concluding” that it meets the criteria for crimes against humanity.

Zenz, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, reviewed numerous public and non-public Chinese government and academic sources that detailed what his report says is part of a “state-run scheme to forcibly uproot [minorities in the XUAR], assimilate them and reduce their population density.”

Among the sources was a previously untranslated document published in December 2019 by the China Institute of Wealth and Economics at Nankai University on “poverty alleviation work” in the XUAR’s Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture. Deleted from the Chinese internet in mid-2020, the Nankai Report “gives strong and authoritative evidence for large-scale, coercive stated-driven recruitments into labor transfers and for the securitized nature of such transfers to other provinces,” Zenz’s report said.

While the Nankai Report notes that such transfers are intended to “reduce labor costs” for companies, it also describes several phases through which authorities can effectively thin out ethnic minority populations in the XUAR.

It notes that authorities took the “drastic short-term measure” of placing many Uyghurs into “Education and Training Centers”—a euphemism for the vast network of internment camps where authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million people since early 2017.

But it adds that labor transfers can be used to promote “assimilation” and “reduce Uyghur population density,” while advising that such a policy be downplayed to avoid international scrutiny.

Other publications refer to the labor transfer scheme as a way to mitigate the influence of religion in the Uyghur community and blame lax “family planning” policies for an excess number of Uyghur surplus laborers that pose a threat to Beijing’s rule.

Meanwhile, campaigns are under way to “liberate” hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority farmers into industrial labor and to settle 300,000 additional Han Chinese in Uyghur heartland regions by 2022, Zenz said.

Citing Chinese academic research and government figures, Zenz estimated that up to 1.6 million transferred laborers are “generally at risk of being subjected to forced labor” as a result of the scheme.

Officials meet with workers at the Zhuowan factory in Ghulja county, in the XUAR's Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, in an undated photo. RFA listener

‘Moral imperative to fully divest’

Zenz said that legal analysis shows that the scale and intent of the labor transfer scheme could constitute Crimes Against Humanity of Forcible Transfer and Persecution, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Consequently, the global community is faced with a strong moral imperative to fully divest its supply chains from any product that is made in whole or in part with raw materials or forced labor from Xinjiang,” the report said.

While China asserts that the creation of the ICC was a positive addition to the legal structure of global governance, it has refused to join the court and does not recognize its jurisdiction. Beijing maintains that its policies in the XUAR are preventative in nature, citing the pretext of terrorism and religious extremism, and asserts that its policies in the region are purely internal affairs.

In a written statement, China’s foreign ministry said that Zenz’s report “reflects only the author’s personal view and much of its contents are not in line with the facts.”

“We hope that journalists will use the authoritative information released by the Chinese government as the basis for reporting on Xinjiang,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, the Washington-based Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU) advocacy group welcomed the report, saying it clearly indicated “the intricacies of the forced labor system, the realities of what global brands are complicit in, and the specifics of the Chinese political environment of repression”

“These transfers are not only about boosting the economy, but rather are deliberately seeking to displace and reduce the Uyghur population density to rip them from their culture as part of this genocide,” the group said in a statement.

CFU echoed Zenz’s concerns that all products produced in the region “must be presumed tainted,” and called on brands and corporations to exit the region.

A facility believed to be an internment camp located north of Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 2, 2019. AFP

BBC analysis

An analysis of the Nankai Report was also published on Wednesday by the BBC which also said it shows that, despite claims by the Chinese government that the labor transfer scheme is designed to raise incomes and alleviate poverty, the policy “involves a high risk of coercion and is similarly designed to assimilate minorities by changing their lifestyles and thinking.”

The BBC included a state media television broadcast from 2017 in which Han Chinese village officials pressure Uyghur residents of southern Xinjiang into accepting jobs in Anhui province 4,000 kilometers away. Laura Murphy, an expert in human rights and contemporary slavery at the U.K.’s Sheffield Hallam University, said the video “absolutely reveals that this is a system of coercion that people are not allowed to resist.”

According to the BBC, while the Nankai Report authors write of voluntary work placements, with factories allowing workers to come and go as they please, they also detail “targets” to be met by local officials with recruiting stations set up in every village.

The report also describes recruits being put through “political thought education,” and then transported to the factories in groups “led and accompanied by political cadres in order to implement security and management.” Once they arrive, the BBC said, “workers themselves are put under the ‘centralized management’ of officials who ‘eat and live’ with them.”

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Amelia Pang, an investigative journalist who authored the book Made In China: A Prisoner, An SOS Letter, And The Hidden Cost Of America's Cheap Goods, said it was clear from the state media video featured in the BBC report that “these are not happy people who are glad to get vocational training.”

“They're saying they don't want to go; they don't want to leave their communities; they don't want to leave their families and friends and be separated,” said Pang, who is of Chinese and Uyghur descent.

“The Uyghurs who do get transferred out of their communities and forced to work at these Han majority regions, their future descendants are going to lose that Uyghur heritage and culture and that Uyghur identity. I think that's the ultimate purpose.”

Pang said that more nations should work together to stand up to China and pressure the Asian superpower to reverse its policies in the region.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva via video link, Feb. 24, 2021. AFP

International action

Last week, the Dutch House of Representatives voted to recognize China’s abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR as genocide, becoming the first parliament in Europe to do so.

The non-binding motion followed a similar resolution passed by Canada’s House of Commons last month and an official designation of the situation in the region as genocide by the U.S. in January.

In addition to the U.S. State Department’s designation under former President Donald Trump, which the new administration of President Joe Biden has endorsed, Washington has taken several steps to address rights abuses in the XUAR.

Trump slapped sanctions on several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for the situation, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The move, which marked the first time Washington has sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo, followed Trump’s enactment in June of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA). The legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress, and highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against the Chinese officials who enforce them.

Another proposed bill—Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—was reintroduced in February in the House of Representatives. The act, which was passed by the House last year but never brought to the floor by the Senate, would block imports from the region unless proof can be shown that they are not linked to forced labor.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech outlining plans for U.S. foreign policy under the new administration that ties between Washington and Beijing represent “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”

“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system—all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people,” he said.

Blinken said the Biden administration will prioritize a multilateral approach to Beijing on issues such as the XUAR “because our combined weight is much harder for China to ignore.”

“It requires standing up for our values when human rights are abused in Xinjiang … because if we don’t, China will act with even greater impunity,” he said.

Reported by Nuriman Abdurashid for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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