China says 456,000 Uyghurs newly hired this year in Xinjiang

But experts say most of the jobs are forced labor in factories and on farms.
By Kurban Niyaz for RFA Uyghur
2024.01.02
China says 456,000 Uyghurs newly hired this year in Xinjiang People play cards in a park in Artux, northwestern China's Xinjiang region, July 19, 2023.
(Pedro Pardo/AFP)

UPDATED at 10:48 A.M. ET on 01-03-2023

China says that 456,000 people were newly employed during the first 10 months of the year in its far-western Xinjiang region, evidence it said showed that Beijing was successfully promoting economic development to create a “happy and harmonious” Uyghur society.

Authorities are seeking “full employment” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, or XUAR, as a key economic strategy to alleviate poverty, the Chinese-controlled Tengritagh Network said on Dec. 25.

“Employment signifies a stable source of income, and a stable source of income paves the way for the desire to consume,” said the report, which said 456,000 people had been added to the workforce.

But Uyghur experts and activists said many of the jobs amounted to forced labor of people who had been detained – or were still detained – in a vast network of “re-education” camps where their human rights were routinely abused.

Authorities are relying on the forced labor to maintain surveillance of these people, said Ilshat Hesen Kokbore, vice chairman of the executive committee of the World Uyghur Congress.

“This involves ensuring that they are not idle, but engaged in various sectors,” he told RFA.

“The primary objective of such arrangements is to subject them to Chinese surveillance and control throughout their workday, ultimately aiming at eradicating the Uyghur nation.” Kokbore said.

ENG_UGY_NewlyEmployed_01XX2024.2.jpg
Women apply makeup to a tourist before dressing her in traditional Uyghur attire in the Old Kashgar tourist area in China's northwestern Xinjiang region, July 20, 2023. (Pedro Pardo/AFP)

Individuals compelled to work in factories in Xinjiang or in Chinese provinces are not voluntary participants, he said. Instead, local authorities are using coercive measures, and many receive only a fraction of regular wages – which is internationally recognized as forced labor, he said.

China desperately needs Uyghurs to fill these jobs, which lack technical complexity and are less favored by Chinese workers, experts said.

"We consistently organize farmers and herdsmen for employment based on enterprise needs,” said the head of Pichan county’s public employment service center, responsible for employing 100 farmers from Lamjin village.

Adrian Zenz, director of China Studies at the U.S.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and an expert on the Xinjiang region, highlighted the presence of two crucial factors when discussing the origins of this type of forced labor in the Uyghur region.

First, Uyghurs and other Muslims detained in vocational internment camps have been shifted to forced labor either in factories on the camp compound or to plants in nearby locations, he said. They eventually will be moved to other work locations and up in the other labor transfer scheme.

The second scheme, related to China’s poverty alleviation policy, places Uyghur rural surplus laborers in labor transfer programs that are not directly linked to internment camps.

This course of recruitment, coercive military-style training in closed facilities, is not always consistent, because the training takes place in different forms and shapes, with the goal being to place them in low skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing, Zenz said.

“They could end up working in the same factory as internment camp workers,” he said.

The Chinese government promotes forced labor in Xinjiang to try to eradicate absolute poverty and maintain social stability, Zenz said.

“It's to keep [ethnic] minorities busy, and factories more easily controlled rather than scattered factories,” he said. “They are also a place of indoctrination and mandatory ongoing training, often times with family separation.”

Instead, the CCP becomes the family becomes the main locus of control in society, he said.

“People are also taken out of their communities,” Zenz said. “They’re uprooted from communities and live on secure factory compounds, so there’s a lot of government intrusion going on here in this scheme.”

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

Clarifies that Ilshat Hesen Kokbore is vice chairman of the executive committee of the World Uyghur Congress.

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