Chinese authorities reportedly interrogated workers linked to US company Verité, which investigates supply-chain labor abuses in the country

A Uyghur woman holds up a photograph as evidence in a wood paneled room in London
Uyghur teacher Qelbinur Sidik speaks at a hearing in London in June on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

  • Workers linked to a US company were interrogated by Chinese officials in April, sources told Axios.
  • The workers were linked to nonprofit Verité, which investigates labor abuses in global supply chains.
  • The State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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.

Chinese consumers threatened to boycott major clothing brands, including H&M and Nike, after the companies said they would not use cotton produced in Xinjiang.

It is not clear whether the workers were investigating Xinjiang-linked supply chains.

Verité aims to “empower workers to advocate for their rights,” according to its website. It lists Nestlé, Asos, and Disney among its partners and clients.

Verité did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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This was one of the worst weeks for China on the world stage in a while

China's President Xi Jinping rubs his eyes
Chinese President Xi Jinping rubs his eye as he arrives for the seventh plenary session of the first session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

  • It was a bad week for China on the world stage.
  • President Biden is getting a warm reception in Europe rallying our democratic allies in the G7, the EU and NATO.
  • And at home, our squabbling US Senate somehow managed to pass a $250 billion bill countering China.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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.

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Some Apple suppliers in China are reportedly saying they won’t hire minorities like Uyghur Muslims in job postings

apple tim cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook on November 20, 2019.

  • The Information viewed jobs listings from Apple suppliers in China explicitly saying Uyghurs are excluded.
  • The outlet previously reported some Apple suppliers were linked to suspected forced labor of the minority group.
  • Human rights activists have condemned China for its persecution and detainment of 1 million Uyghurs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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 news comes after the outlet previously reported some Apple suppliers were linked to suspected forced labor of Uyghur Muslims and other minority groups from the Xinjiang region. A March 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute also found connections between Apple suppliers and forced Uyghur labor.

“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.

Human Rights Watch estimates 1 million Uyghur Muslims are being persecuted in China. The country has detained the marginalized community in internment camps and has forced them to abandon their culture for Chinese customs, like the Mandarin language.

China has pushed back on the characterization of the camps, claiming they are for “reeducation” purposes. The ruling party has called Uyghur Muslims terrorists and religious extremists.

If they refuse to participate in the work camps, they are sent to jail. Reports have surfaced of torture at these camps, including one woman who said she witnessed a gang rape and medical experiments on the prisoners while she was teaching Chinese propaganda in the camps. The government has also been accused of sterilizing Uyghur women.

International human rights advocates and countries around the world have condemned China’s actions. Human Rights Watch said in April that China is committing “crimes against humanity” through its prison centers for Uyghurs.

President Joe Biden earlier this month expanded on an executive order prohibiting US investment into some Chinese companies whose surveillance technology has been used against Uyghur Muslims.

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Why Muslim governments are giving China a free pass on its abuses against Uyghurs

China chinese navy sailors Iran Chabahar
Chinese sailors wave while approaching Iran’s southeastern port city of Chahbahar, during naval drills with Iran and Russia in the Gulf of Oman, December 27, 2019.

  • Western governments and Muslim-majority governments have diverged in their responses to China’s persecution of its Muslim minorities.
  • Most Muslim-majority countries have strong relations with China, and the fear their relations with Beijing would suffer if they condemned that repression.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A chorus of condemnation has risen in recent months from Western capitals in response to China’s persecution of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, and US President Joe Biden has maintained his predecessor’s stance that Beijing is committing “genocide” in Xinjiang – a position that the Canadian and British Parliaments also back.

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.

Virtually all Muslim-majority countries have strong relations with China, which have significantly deepened in the past few decades. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour of the Middle East in late March underscored these growing ties.

Xinjiang
Ethnic Uyghur men at a teahouse, July 1, 2017.

China has so much economic and geopolitical clout that most governments want to avoid risking any clash with Beijing, especially on issues that China’s government views as internal matters.

Indeed, some governments of Muslim-majority states have even defended Beijing’s heavy-handed approach as necessary to combat “terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism” in Xinjiang.

This wasn’t always the case. More than a decade before former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of genocide in Xinjiang, Turkey’s then-prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, did the same in 2009.

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.

China Iran deal Javad Zarif Wang Yi
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, after signing documents in Tehran, March 27, 2021.

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.

In Pakistan, one of China’s closest foreign allies, Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri met with the Chinese ambassador in September 2018 and reportedly told him that Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang would fuel, rather than tamp down, religious extremism.

Yet only four months later, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs downplayed international media outlets’ reporting on Xinjiang as efforts to “sensationalize” the issue.

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.

Xinjiang
Ethnic Uyghur and Han shopkeepers are trained in security measures, in Kashgar in Xinjiang province, June 27, 2017.

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.

Xinjiang
An Uyghur man, his son, and women in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China’s largest mosque, in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, July 31, 2014.

“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.”

Many Muslim-majority countries go beyond supporting China rhetorically. There are documented cases of Egypt deporting Uyghurs to China. The same is reportedly true for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Turkey – although Turkish authorities have purportedly opted to deport Uyghurs to Tajikistan, from where they were sent back to China.

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.

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The US is ‘not focused on a boycott’ of the 2022 Olympics in China amid human rights concerns, Blinken says

Beijing
A Chinese flag flutters in front of the IOC headquarters during a protest by activists of the International Tibet Network against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on February 3, 2021 in Lausanne.

  • The United States is “not focused” on boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
  • Calls for nations, including the US, to boycott next year’s games are growing.
  • Tensions are rising between the US, its allies, and China over allegations of human rights violations in the country’s Xinjiang region.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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.

Much of Blinken’s interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday was focused on China, including its role in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and its relationship with Taiwan. But Blinken said the US wasn’t ready to resort to boycotting the winter games.

“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.”

China, meanwhile, has threatened countries against boycotting the games, and has said that a US boycott of the Olympics would be met with a “robust Chinese response.”

“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.

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