[Marxism] China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 16 14:37:49 MST 2018

NY Times, Dec. 16, 2018
China’s Detention Camps for Muslims Turn to Forced Labor
By Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy

KASHGAR, China — Muslim inmates from internment camps in far western 
China hunched over sewing machines, in row after row. They were among 
hundreds of thousands who had been detained and spent month after month 
renouncing their religious convictions. Now the government was showing 
them on television as models of repentance, earning good pay — and 
political salvation — as factory workers.

China’s ruling Communist Party has said in a surge of upbeat propaganda 
that a sprawling network of camps in the Xinjiang region is providing 
job training and putting detainees on production lines for their own 
good, offering an escape from poverty, backwardness and the temptations 
of radical Islam.

But mounting evidence suggests a system of forced labor is emerging from 
the camps, a development likely to intensify international condemnation 
of China’s drastic efforts to control and indoctrinate a Muslim ethnic 
minority population of more than 12 million in Xinjiang.

Accounts from the region, satellite images and previously unreported 
official documents indicate that growing numbers of detainees are being 
sent to new factories, built inside or near the camps, where inmates 
have little choice but to accept jobs and follow orders.

“These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for 
these factories,” said Mehmet Volkan Kasikci, a researcher in Turkey who 
has collected accounts of inmates in the factories by interviewing 
relatives who have left China. “Stories continue to come to me,” he said.

China has defied an international outcry against the sweeping internment 
program in Xinjiang, which holds Muslims and forces them to renounce 
religious piety and pledge loyalty to the party. The emerging labor 
program underlines the government’s determination to continue operating 
the camps despite calls from United Nations human rights officials, the 
United States and other governments to close them.

A satellite image taken in September shows an internment camp in 
Xinjiang. The buildings in the upper left corner appear to be of a 
design commonly used by factories.CreditTerraserver/Digital Globe
The program aims to transform scattered Uighurs, Kazakhs and other 
ethnic minorities — many of them farmers, shopkeepers and tradespeople — 
into a disciplined, Chinese-speaking industrial work force, loyal to the 
Communist Party and factory bosses, according to official plans 
published online.

These documents describe the camps as vocational training centers and do 
not specify whether inmates are required to accept assignments to 
factories or other jobs. But pervasive restrictions on the movement and 
employment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, as well as a government 
effort to persuade businesses to open factories around the camps, 
suggest that they have little choice.

Independent accounts from inmates who have worked in the factories are 
rare. The police block attempts to get near the camps and closely 
monitor foreign journalists who travel to Xinjiang, making it all but 
impossible to conduct interviews in the region. And most Uighurs who 
have fled Xinjiang did so before the factory program grew in recent months.

But Serikzhan Bilash, a founder of Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights, an 
organization in Kazakhstan that helps ethnic Kazakhs who have left 
neighboring Xinjiang, said he had interviewed relatives of 10 inmates in 
recent months who had told their families that they were made to work in 
factories after undergoing indoctrination in the camps.

They mostly made clothes, and they called their employers “black 
factories,” because of the low wages and tough conditions, he said.

Mr. Kasikci also described several cases based on interviews with family 
members: Sofiya Tolybaiqyzy, who was sent from a camp to work in a 
carpet factory. Abil Amantai, 37, who was put in a camp a year ago and 
told relatives he was working in a textile factory for $95 a month. 
Nural Razila, 25, who had studied oil drilling but after a year in a 
camp was sent to a new textile factory nearby.

“It’s not as though they have a choice of whether they get to work in a 
factory, or what factory they are assigned to,” said Darren Byler, a 
lecturer at the University of Washington who studies Xinjiang and 
visited the region in April.

He said it was safe to conclude that hundreds of thousands of detainees 
could be compelled to work in factories if the program were put in place 
at all of the region’s internment camps.

The Xinjiang government did not respond to faxed questions about the 
factories, nor did the State Council Information Office, the central 
government agency that answers reporters’ questions.

The documents detail plans for inmates, even those formally released 
from the camps, to take jobs at factories that work closely with the 
camps to continue to monitor and control them. The socks, suits, skirts 
and other goods made by these laborers would be sold in Chinese stores 
and could trickle into overseas markets.

Kashgar, an ancient, predominantly Uighur area of southern Xinjiang that 
is a focus of the program, reported that in 2018 alone it aimed to send 
100,000 inmates who had been through the “vocational training centers” 
to work in factories, according to a plan issued in August.

That figure may be an ambitious political goal rather than a realistic 
target. But it suggests how many Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic 
minorities may be held in the camps and sent to factories. Scholars have 
estimated that as many as one million people have been detained. The 
Chinese government has not issued or confirmed any figures.

“I don’t see China yielding an inch on Xinjiang,” said John Kamm, the 
founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based group that 
lobbies China on human rights issues. “Now it seems we have 
entrepreneurs coming in and taking advantage of the situation.”

The evolution of the Xinjiang camps echoes China’s “re-education through 
labor” system, where citizens once were sent without trial to toil for 
years. China abolished “re-education through labor” five years ago, but 
Xinjiang appears to be creating a new version.

Retailers in the United States and other countries should guard against 
buying goods made by workers from the Xinjiang camps, which could 
violate laws banning imports produced by prison or forced labor, Mr. 
Kamm said.

While the bulk of clothes and other textile goods manufactured in 
Xinjiang ends up in domestic and Central Asian markets, some makes its 
way to the United States and Europe.

Badger Sportswear, a company based in North Carolina, last month 
received a container of polyester knitted T-shirts from Hetian Taida, a 
company in Xinjiang that was shown on a prime-time state television 
broadcast promoting the camps.

The program showed workers at a Hetian Taida plant, including a woman 
who was described as a former camp inmate. But the small factory did not 
appear to be on a camp site, and it is unclear whether it made the 
T-shirts sent to North Carolina.

Ginny Gasswint, a Badger Sportswear executive, said the company had 
ordered a small amount of products from Xinjiang, and used Worldwide 
Responsible Accredited Production, a nonprofit certification 
organization, to ensure that its suppliers meet standards.

Seth Lennon, a spokesman for Worldwide, said that Hetian Taida had only 
recently enrolled in its program, and the organization had no 
information on possible coerced labor in Xinjiang. “We will certainly 
look into this,” he said.

Repeated calls over several days to Wu Hongbo, the chairman of Hetian 
Taida, went unanswered.

Satellite imagery suggests that production lines are being built inside 
some internment camps.

A state television broadcast promoting the internment camps showed 
textile workers at a company named Hetian Taida. The company shipped 
T-shirts to North Carolina last month.

Images of one camp featured in the state television broadcast, for 
example, show 10 to 12 large buildings with a single-story, one-room 
design commonly used for factories, said Nathan Ruser, a researcher at 
the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The buildings are surrounded 
by fencing and security towers, indicating that they are heavily guarded 
like the rest of the camp.

“It seems unlikely that any detainee would be able to go to any building 
that they were not taken to,” Mr. Ruser said.

Commercial registration records also show at least a few companies have 
been established this year at addresses inside internment camps. They 
include a printing factory, a noodle factory and at least two clothing 
and textile manufacturers at camps in rural areas around Kashgar. 
Another clothing and bedding manufacturer is registered in a camp in 
Aksu in northwestern Xinjiang.

The government’s effort to connect the internment camps with factories 
emerged this year as the number of detainees climbed and Xinjiang faced 
rising costs to build and run the camps.

Many camps were once called “transformation through education centers” 
by the government, reflecting their mission: inducing inmates to cast 
aside Islamic devotion and accept Communist Party supremacy.

But since August, the Chinese government has defended the camps by 
arguing that they are job training centers that will help lift detainees 
and their families out of poverty by giving them the skills to join 
China’s economic mainstream. Many rural Uighurs speak little Chinese, 
and language training has been advertised as one of the main purposes of 
the camps.

Yet the practical training in the camps often appears to be rudimentary, 
said Adrian Zenz, a social scientist at the European School of Culture 
and Theology who has studied the campaign.

An early hint of the factory labor program came in March when Sun 
Ruizhe, the president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council, 
described it to senior industry representatives, according to a 
transcript of his speech that was posted on industry websites.

Mr. Sun said that Xinjiang planned to recruit from three main sources to 
increase the textile and garment sector’s work force by more than 
100,000 in 2018: impoverished households, struggling relatives of 
prisoners and detainees, and the camp inmates, whose training “could be 
combined with developing the textile and apparel section.”

In April, the Xinjiang government began rolling out a plan to attract 
textile and garment companies. Local governments would receive funds to 
build production sites for them near the camps; companies would receive 
a subsidy of $260 to train each inmate they took on, as well other 

In remarks in October defending the camps, a top official in Xinjiang, 
Shohrat Zakir, said the government was busy preparing “job assignments” 
for inmates formally finishing indoctrination and training. A budget 
document earlier this year from Yarkant, a county in Kashgar, said the 
camps were responsible for “employment services.”

The inmates assigned to factories may have to stay for years.

Mr. Byler said a relative of a Uighur friend was sent to an 
indoctrination camp in March and formally released this fall. But he was 
then told he had to work for up to three years in a clothing factory.

A government official, Mr. Byler said, suggested to his friend’s family 
that if the relative worked hard, his time in the factory might be reduced.

The Chinese state media has praised the centers as leading wayward 
people toward modern civilization. It also reports that the workers are 
generously paid.

“The training will turn them from ‘nomads’ into skilled marvels,” the 
official Xinjiang Daily said last month. “Education and training will 
make them into ‘modern people,’ useful to society.”

Austin Ramzy reported from Hong Kong.

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