Uyghur Forced Labor, Coercion on an Industrial Scale Exposed
New documents prove that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic workers are forcibly transferred to other provinces to tear apart their communities.
by Ruth Ingram
The seering Hotan heat is stifling. Desert sands scald unprotected feet and wheat is harvested in the fields amidst swirls of talcum powder dust. In the village square a table full of officials waits in vain for volunteers willing to leave their homes to work on factory production lines 4000 kilometres away. A Chinese official, forehead glistening with sweat takes a much needed swig from his water bottle. But despite loudspeakers blaring insistently, they were destined to wait in vain. Still no takers after two days.
Beijing’s undisguised ambitions to forcibly uproot and assimilate Uyghurs and reduce their population density by rounding up huge swathes of so-called “surplus rural labour” largely from Southern Xinjiang, have been unmasked in a BBC news report this week.
Drawing on evidence uncovered by Dr. Adrian Zenz, leading researcher on Tibet and Xinjiang, whose new report was published by The Jamestown Foundation and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and Chinese government footage intended for CCP eyes only, the exposé spotlights the coercion used to corral quotas of Uyghur villagers for factories in the East, and the more sinister motives behind the schemes.
After two days, undeterred by a lacklustre response, the recruiting team were forced to ply their wares door to door. We watch the propaganda footage. The officials are welcomed in by 19 year old Buzaynap’s father. Grapes would have dangled in huge bunches from a trellis in their shady courtyard home, where a huge supa would be ready to entertain guests with spiced tea and melon. But the village committee was made to stand. Voluntary registration having failed, and with quotas to fill, plan B was coercion. One official after the other tried to cajole the tearful teenager to leave it all behind and travel with them to the big smoke, far from her lanes and streams, bustling animal markets and bazars, and warm family gatherings in the cool of the evening.
She was told she would have a return ticket and could come home if she didn’t like it. “If you don’t go you’ll end up like your sister,” seemed to be the ultimate threat if she failed to comply. “You’ll soon get married and you’ll never be able to leave this place.” Her arm was finally twisted on a promise that she could go with her friends.
Dr Zenz’s report unveils new evidence from Chinese sources, notably the previously untranslated “Nankai Report” which was the result of fieldwork published by three academics from Nankai University in 2019, and inexplicably removed from the university website in mid 2020, but not before being archived by Zenz. Ulterior motives behind labour transfer are neither poverty alleviation nor economic development, according to the findings, but are exposed as reducing labour costs for companies, and more troublingly, in the long-term to promote “assimilation” and “reduce Uyghur population density.”
The Report recommended the program be “initiated quietly” with “no need to overly publicize it internationally.”
Elsewhere, according to Zenz, Chinese academic publications describe labour transfers as a crucial means to deal with several thorns in Beijing’s side. They would “crack open the solidified [Uyghur] society” and “mitigate the negative impact of religion,” which has been blamed in several studies for a “dense religious atmosphere.” This, according to CCP research, closes minds, reduces mobility and breeds unbridled religiosity. “Due to a lack of population mobility… the excessively strong atmosphere of religious belief cannot be diluted, and the development of social modernity is retarded.”
Lax family planning policies are blamed for the “severely excessive” number of Uyghur surplus laborers that now constitute a “latent threat to the current regime,” and increase numbers of those deemed “problematic” by the government.
During his investigations into labour transfer, Zenz unearthed two previously unreported campaigns. The first was a plan to “liberate” hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority farmers and pastoralists onto the conveyor belts and production lines of industry, by transferring usage rights to their land or herds to state-run collectives while they were away. The second was to settle 300,000 additional Han Chinese settlers in Uyghur heartland regions by 2022 in order to “optimize southern Xinjiang’s population structure.”
Staggeringly, Zenz has calculated, based on Chinese academic research and government figures, that up to 1.6 million transferred laborers are thought to be at risk of forced labor.
According to Zenz, the government’s two-pronged approach to surplus labour either places graduates from vocational internment camps into factory jobs that are often located near the camps, or assigns mandatory training and job placements throughout China for “surplus labour” from minority regions. This of course has an ethical knock on effect for opponents of forced labour among the world’s largest suppliers of garments and other manufactured goods.
Zenz traces the “increasingly detailed, intrusive and coercive,” development of both kinds of forced labour from 2014 following several violent attacks by Uyghurs against the Han majority.
Following the incidents, Xinjiang’s Party Secretary, Zhang Chunxian in declaring employment to be a top priority, hoped to “promote ethnic interaction, exchanges and blending,” and squeeze out religious extremism. A target was set for 50,000 labor transfers outside the region.
Coercion was stepped up in 2017, according to Zenz, who discovered that settings for targeted groups of rural surplus laborers became highly militarized, increasingly securitized, and in several ways not dissimilar to the vocational internment camps that were being developed at the same time. This approach sought to maximize “iron-like” discipline, obedience, and the production of “standardized behavior”
Xinjiang’s new party secretary Chen Quanguo made labor training and transfer processes in ethnic minority regions even more coercive. The minorities’ “backwards” work attitude was to be changed from “I am wanted to work” to “I want to work.”
January 2018 saw a government-initiated a program to transfer 221,000 laborers from 22 poor counties in southern Xinjiang, with an emphasis on adults from low-income households, to regions outside their original communities by mid-2020, including an “orderly increase of transfer to inner China.” The program focused on heavy-handed political indoctrination, including “gratitude to the party”, legal knowledge, Chinese language skills, work discipline and military drill.
Given that the intention is to forcibly displace ethnic minority populations from their heartlands, intentionally reduce their population density, and to tear apart homogeneous communities, the report concludes that “several experts in international criminal law agree that there are ‘credible grounds for concluding’ that Xinjiang’s labor transfer scheme meets the criteria for Crimes Against Humanity of Forcible Transfer and Persecution as defined under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
“Consequently,” concludes Zenz, “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.” He advocated an urgent atrocity determination in accordance with the ICC Rome Statute provisions on forcible transfer and persecution.