At least seven people working in partnership with a US labor-rights company were interrogated for several days by Chinese officials, Axios reported.
Chinese authorities questioned people working on behalf of Verité in April, Axios reported, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Verité is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that investigates possible labor abuses in supply chains.
The US State Department was “deeply concerned by reports that supply-chain auditors have been detained, threatened, harassed and subjected to constant surveillance while conducting their vital work in China,” a spokesperson told Axios.
It is not clear whether the people were Verité employees or contractors, or which company’s supply chain they were investigating.
Since 2016, China has detained about 1 million Uyghurs in their homeland of Xinjiang in hundreds of prison camps. It claims they are a terror threat. The US government has criticized China for its suspected use of forced labor of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and human-rights groups accuse China of committing “crimes against humanity.” The Chinese government has denied that it uses forced labor in Xinjiang.
This week the leaders of the Western world turned their eyes toward China, and as a result it was one of the worst weeks for Beijing on the world stage in some time.
In Washington, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate set aside their differences to pass a $250 billion industrial policy bill aimed at preparing US commerce and government for competition with Beijing. And while on a diplomatic trip to Europe, President Joe Biden is reinvigorating our ties to our allies in Europe, the G7 group of nations, and NATO. On the top of the agenda in these meetings is the question of how to counter an aggressive, totalitarian China on the rise.
This comes as every indication points to China moving farther and farther away being an open, even remotely democratic society.
Earlier this week Amnesty International published an in-depth look at life for Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, calling it a “dystopian hellscape” where Muslims are terrorized and arbitrarily forced into labor camps as part of “part of a larger campaign of subjugation and forced assimilation.” The Times also reported the Chinese government is seizing Uyghur Muslims who flee abroad.
On the economic front, the Chinese legislature rushed through a bill expanding the government’s means and methods to retaliate against foreign sanctions including the ability to seize foreign companies’ Chinese assets, deny visas, and block the ability to do deals in China. Foreign businesses in the country were caught flat-footed.
At the heart of China’s bellicose behavior is the belief, held among many elites in the Chinese Communist Party, that the US and its partners in the West are in a state of decline. This idea took root during the 2008 financial crisis, and then was reaffirmed by the European debt crisis, the election of Donald Trump and his agression towards our European allies, and the United State’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
To the CCP, our way of life looks like chaos – a cacophony of voices sometimes forcefully pulling our discourse to the right then back to the left. They’ve convinced themselves that we can no longer organize and unify our societies to do the ambitious things that need to be done to win the future. This week the West showed China signs that – when it comes to countering a strengthening totalitarian power – that may not be the case.
A matter of trust
China squandered a massive opportunity over the last four years. As president, Donald Trump snubbed America’s traditional allies and made overtures to the world’s thugs and petty dictators. That could have been a moment when China cozied up to Europe as a more stable alternative, instead China wound up alienating the continent with its overbearing behavior.
For example, at the beginning of this year it seemed certain that the European Union and China would sign a trade deal, against the wishes of the United States. But in March, when the EU sanctioned China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, Beijing – in keeping with its policy of aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy – responded by sanctioning members of EU Parliament. This put the EU-China trade deal on an indefinite hold.
That brings us to Biden and his current trip to Europe, where the president is trying to rebuild trust among nations. His administration is working on undoing the tariffs the Trump administration put on its EU partners with an aim to lift them by the end of the year. He is encouraging unity on the European continent, urging UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to settle his differences with the EU over Brexit and keep the peace on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. Biden also announced that the US would donate 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to over 100 countries “no strings attached.”
Trump’s betrayal of our allies left commentators around the world wondering if US-led groups like the G7 would be able to cooperate enough to do hard things again. This week we’re seeing signs that they can and will. The first sign was Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s momentous announcement that the G7 had come to an agreement on an international minimum corporate tax to stop the race to the bottom in taxing the world’s richest companies.
And now it appears Biden is also rallying our allies to counter China. Before he left for Europe, Biden met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House. Addressing the press after their meeting Stoltenberg said China “doesn’t share our values.” Biden will attend a NATO summit on Monday, and it will produce the strongest statement in its history on NATO’s stance on China, according to the Wall Street Journal.
From the comfortable primeval mud
Legendary American diplomat George Kennan – known for outlining the US policy of containing the USSR during the Cold War – used to say that the US people are always about 10 years behind its diplomats when it comes to seeing danger from abroad. Lecturing back in 1950 he compared democracies to a giant prehistoric monster “with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin” that needs to be directly confronted with a problem before it awakens from the “comfortable primeval mud.” But when a challenge does gain our attention, Kennan said, the country lashes out with “such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat.”
Perhaps the US has learned something from Kennan. Consider the Senate’s passage of a 2,400 page bill aimed at shoring up the US as an economic and technological superpower. The size and scope of the bill shows that our leaders are trying to meet a challenge before it’s an emergency.
The bill allocates $52 billion to building up the semiconductor industry in the US in order to decrease our dependence on semiconductors from China and Taiwan. The bill also funds major research, allocating $81 billion to the National Science Foundation from 2022 to fiscal 2026 and $120 billion into technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
There are also diplomatic and intelligence measures. It bars US diplomats from attending the Olympics in Beijing, and requires the intelligence community to produce a report about China’s efforts to influence international bodies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organizations and United Nations. It passed the fractious US Senate – sometimes sardonically referred to as Mitch McConnell’s “legislative graveyard” – on a vote of 68 to 32.
China responded to the bill saying that it “slanders China” and is “full of Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
In a time when the leaders of the richest country in the world are squabbling amongst themselves over whether or not to fund the building of roads and bridges, this bill is a heartening sight. The most important ways the US can counter China are by strengthening itself domestically and by preparing for the worst with its allies. If the giant prehistoric monster hasn’t awakened, this week shows that it now at least has one eye open.
Some Apple suppliers in China aren’t accepting minority job applicants and are explicitly saying members of marginalized groups should not apply, according to a Tuesday report by The Information.
The news site found discriminatory online job listings from companies that produce parts for iPhones, iPads, and AirPods, like circuit boards, iPhone glass, data cables, and camera lenses. Foxconn Technology is one of the companies whose ads were found.
One job listing in April from the company Biel Crystal, which makes iPhone glass, read: “Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hui, Yi, Dongxiang from Tibet or Xinjiang regions aren’t accepted,” per the report. Another from Cathay Tat Ming, which manufactures iPhone parts, read that only “minorities without dietary restrictions are accepted (Uyghurs excluded).”
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Apple relies heavily on its supply chain in China, and The Information reported that the more than 30 Apple suppliers that posted the discriminatory job listings collectively employ more than 1 million people. The outlet also noted that by outsourcing its production to suppliers in China, it’s difficult for Apple to monitor potential violations in company code.
“The real irony here is that these companies discriminate against religious and ethnic minorities while utilizing forced labor from Xinjiang,” Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, told The Information.
Apple has long denied that its suppliers use forced Uyghur labor.
Yet, governments of Muslim-majority countries have so far largely refrained from criticizing China over its actions in Xinjiang. Why? There are justifiable fears that their relations with Beijing would suffer if they condemned the repression of the Uyghurs.
China had yet to begin constructing the network of internment camps – which it euphemistically calls “education and training centers” – in Xinjiang, but a diverse range of officials and politicians in Ankara were still vocal about the oppression of the Uyghurs, whom they refer to as “eastern Turks.”
Turkey’s secular nationalists viewed solidarity with a fellow Turkic-speaking people as an important priority, while the Islamists of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party framed the Uyghurs’ plight as a pan-Islamic cause for Turkey to defend.
Yet due to growing Chinese investment in Turkey – as well as the geopolitical fallout of the failed Turkish coup of 2016, which prompted Ankara to pivot away from its Western allies and build closer ties with China and Russia – Turkey’s leadership has muted its stance on Xinjiang in recent years.
In Iran, which recently signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement with China, few high-level political figures are willing to speak out on Xinjiang. Ali Motahari, a former Iranian lawmaker, is one of them. He complained in August 2020 that Tehran has remained silent on the “complete eradication of Islamic culture” in western China, due to fear of rocking the boat with Beijing.
In an interview with a local media outlet, Motahari said he had asked a Foreign Ministry official about the issue and was told the government needs to be silent “due to economic needs.” In light of Iran’s efforts to further integrate its economy with China’s through its cooperation agreement, it is safe to assume that Tehran’s position will not change, particularly if the US is leading the charge against China.
At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Imran Khan acknowledged that Pakistan’s close economic ties with China played a major role in shaping his government’s approach to Xinjiang. “China has helped us,” he said. “They came to help us when we were at rock bottom, and so we are really grateful to the Chinese government.”
Such statements are significant considering Islamabad’s indirect role in boosting the salience of Islam among the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. China and Pakistan partnered to build the Karakoram highway, one of the highest-altitude paved roads in the world, which was completed in 1979.
Also known as the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway, it connects Xinjiang with the Pakistan-administered province of Gilgit-Baltistan. This has led more Uyghurs to be exposed to the Saudi-inspired conservative interpretations of Islam that are prevalent in Pakistan, encouraging more overt expressions of religiosity in Xinjiang.
Many Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries also have important roles to play in implementing China’s ambitious infrastructure development strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, which seeks to build regional trade and transport connectivity.
These countries, many of which are ruled by autocratic regimes, understand that there are no human rights litmus tests that must be passed to cooperate with Beijing on its projects. This approach is welcome for countries like Saudi Arabia, which have faced pushback in the West due to their human rights abuses.
Authoritarian regimes in the Middle East also have deep concerns about political Islam, which may factor into their decisions to give Beijing a pass on Xinjiang. Their support, in turn, gives China valuable political cover from governments of Muslim-majority countries, especially those that claim religious authority in the Muslim world, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
These two countries, along with the United Arab Emirates, claim to promote “moderate Islam” – an approach that, in practice, is used to discredit any expression of Islam not sanctioned by the state. The demonization of non-state-sponsored forms of Islam aligns conveniently with the objective of the Chinese government: to characterize expressions of faith among the Uyghurs as potential signs of dissent, violence or even terrorism.
Given its own concerns about the perceived threat of Islamist activism, the UAE has been particularly supportive of China’s “Strike Hard” campaign in Xinjiang.
When the UAE’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Zayed, visited Beijing in July 2019, President Xi Jinping thanked him for his country’s “valuable support” when it comes to Xinjiang. Mohammed bin Zayed told Xi that the UAE would be willing to work with China to “jointly strike against terrorist extremist forces.”
A host of Middle Eastern governments also have concerns about their own separatist movements, which pushes them further into the pro-China camp on this issue.
“Beijing claims that the Uyghur controversy is a Western-propagated conspiracy aimed at hindering China’s progress by creating ethnic minority divisions within its borders – similar to the situation in many Arab states, where governments tend to view Kurdish and other minority movements as Western-fueled attempts to sow internal strife and separatism,” Haisam Hassanein, a former fellow with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in 2019. “Arab and Chinese leaders alike are firm believers in suppressing any such movements within their borders.”
Uyghurs seeking to flee China are generally safer in Western countries than in the Muslim-majority states of the Middle East. Yet the relative difficulty of gaining entry to countries in Europe and North America has left Uyghur refugees with few safe havens.
A final factor in Muslim-majority states’ tepid approach to Xinjiang is Global South solidarity. Segments of many Arab and African countries see China as an anti-imperialist power and for this reason would oppose their governments joining the West in attacking Beijing for its human rights abuses.
When 22 mostly Western countries issued a joint statement condemning the treatment of Uyghurs in 2019, 37 other states, mostly from the Global South, signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council praising China’s contributions to human rights.
“In many countries, criticizing China is the new blasphemy,” wrote Nick Cohen, a columnist for The Observer. “Nowhere can you see the power more nakedly displayed than in Muslim-majority regimes.”
Indeed, from the perspective of these governments, the parallels between China’s goals and their own increasingly make Beijing a more attractive partner than Washington. This means that the Uyghurs will continue to find greater support from Western nations than from governments comprised of their fellow Muslims.
Annelle Sheline is the research fellow for the Middle East at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Follow her on Twitter @AnnelleSheline.
Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy that focuses on the Middle East. His writing has been published by Al Monitor, LobeLog and the Middle East Institute. Follow him on Twitter @GiorgioCafiero.
The United States is “not focused on a boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing despite its concerns over human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.
Calls for the US and other nations to boycott next year’s games are growing amid continued allegations of human rights abuse by the Chinese government in the country’s Xinjiang region.
“This is a year or so before the Olympics. We’re not focused on a boycott,” Blinken told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. “What we are focused on is talking, consulting closely with our allies and partners, listening to them, listening to concerns.”
“The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “The international community, including the US Olympic Committee, will not accept it.”
As Insider previously reported, the US has been in talks with its allies over whether they should boycott the Olympics, slated to begin February 2022, due to the alleged human rights abuses in China. Human rights groups have alleged the Chinese government has forced minority groups – particularly over a million Uyghur Muslims – into detention camps in the Xinjiang region.
China has repeatedly denied such claims. The US and its allies this year imposed sanctions on China. Blinken previously accused the Chinese government of committing “genocide and crimes against humanity”
“We need to be able to bring the world together in speaking with one voice in condemning what has taken place and what continues to take place,” he said Sunday. “We need to take actually concrete actions to make sure, for example, that none of our companies are providing China with things that they can use to repress populations, including the Uyghur population.”
But the US must ensure it was dealing and acting with all of its “interests and values” in mind, Blinken said.
“And when it comes to China, we have to be able to deal with China on areas where those interests are implicated and require working with China, even as we stand resolutely against egregious violations of human rights or in this case, acts of genocide,” he added.