The US government just warned companies that even indirect ties to forced labor in China’s Xinjiang province risks breaking the law

Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Huocheng County
Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Huocheng County.

  • The US warned that companies with investment or supply-chain ties to Xinjiang can face legal risks.
  • China has been accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
  • Major US companies have been accused of sourcing cotton and product components in the region.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US on Tuesday cautioned that companies that invest, provide venture capital, or have supply-chain ties to the Xinjiang region of China “run a high risk of violating U.S. law,” due to widespread reports of forced labor and other human rights violations against ethnic minorities in the region.

The US has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, citing the arbitrary mass detention of mostly Muslim ethnic groups in the region in what the Chinese government calls “re-education camps.” The government has also forcibly sterilized, tortured, and sexually abused ethnic minority prisoners in these camps, according to former detainees.

Companies who don’t pull out of the region could violate statutes that criminalize benefitting from or importing goods that are the result of forced labor. The advisory also warned US companies against assisting in the development of surveillance tools for Xinjiang or supplying US-made goods to entities that use forced labor.

In 2020, activist groups accused some of the world’s biggest fashion brands – including Nike and H&M – of sourcing cotton from factories that exploit the forced labor of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Over a million ethnic minorities have been detained in Xinjiang, a region that produces a fifth of world’s cotton, and activist groups have called for companies to exit the region to avoid profiting from human rights violations in the area.

Nike stated that it doesn’t source products, textiles and yarn from Xinjiang, and H&M stated that it was concerned about the accusations of forced labor involved in Xinjiang cotton production.

In May, Apple suppliers were linked to forced labor in the Xinjiang region, with reports that thousands of detained Uyghurs were used to manufacture components for Apple devices. Apple previously denied exploiting forced labor in Xinjiang.

In 2020, Apple and Nike, among other companies, also lobbied to weaken the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that would ban US companies from importing goods made in Xinjiang unless they could prove they weren’t made with forced labor.

According to Reuters, the US may impose additional sanctions on China and may extend a similar business advisory to Hong Kong.

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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.
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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.

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.

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.

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 talking to allies about boycotting 2022 Beijing Olympics over genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang

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 Februay 3, 2021 in Lausanne.

  • The US and its allies are discussing a possible boycott of the 2020 Beijing Olympics.
  • “It is something that we certainly wish to discuss,” the State Department said on Tuesday.
  • China is facing growing backlash over what’s widely considered to be genocide against the Uyghurs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US is considering a joint boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, the US State Department said Tuesday.

“It is something that we certainly wish to discuss,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “A coordinated approach will not only be in our interest but also in the interest of our allies and partners.”

“This is one of the issues that is on the agenda, both now and going forward,” Price added, making clear that a final decision has not been made.

In a later statement to Yahoo Sports, an unnamed State Department official stressed that no such talks have yet taken place. “We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” the official said.

The US government has been ramping up criticism of and pressure on the Chinese government over human rights violations, which led to a public spat between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat in Alaska last month.

The Biden administration in late March slapped new sanctions on Chinese officials over what the Treasury Department described as serious human-rights abuse against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The EU, the UK, and Canada – in coordination with the US – have also hit China with sanctions over its treatment of the Uyghurs.

Human rights groups say the Chinese government has forced over a million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities into detention camps in the Xinjiang region, though Beijing has vehemently denied the allegations.

Blinken has said what’s happening to the Uyghurs amounts to genocide, while calling on China to release “all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”

There have been growing calls for countries and companies to boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Human rights lawyer Djaouida Siaci told Axios that a boycott could open the door for the International Criminal Court to begin an investigation into the allegations of genocide in Xinjiang.

GOP Sen. Mitt Romney in a New York Times op-ed last month said the US should engage in a diplomatic and economic boycott of the 2020 Beijing Olympics.

“Prohibiting our athletes from competing in China is the easy, but wrong, answer. Our athletes have trained their entire lives for this competition and have primed their abilities to peak in 2022,” Romney said.

“The right answer is an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. American spectators – other than families of our athletes and coaches – should stay at home, preventing us from contributing to the enormous revenues the Chinese Communist Party will raise from hotels, meals and tickets,” Romney added. “American corporations that routinely send large groups of their customers and associates to the Games should send them to U.S. venues instead.”

The last time the US boycotted the Olympics was during the 1980 summer games in Moscow.

The US Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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China made a ‘La La Land’-inspired propaganda musical about the life of Uyghur Muslims, which omits all mention of mass surveillance and oppression

china musical uyghurs wings of songs
A still from the 2021 Chinese propaganda musical “The Wings of Songs.”

  • The state-produced “The Wings of Songs” released in China on March 28.
  • It shows Uyghur Muslims living peacefully alongside Han Chinese people.
  • In reality, Uyghurs are heavily monitored and detained in their homeland of Xinjiang.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China released a propaganda musical that purportedly depicts the life of Uyghur Muslims, which fails to mention mass surveillance and systematic human-rights abuses.

“The Wings of Songs,” which premiered in China on March 28, follows the story of a Uyghur, a Kazakh, and a Han Chinese man who form a musical group in the Xinjiang region.

In the film, the relationship between Uyghurs and Han Chinese is described as the “seeds of a pomegranate,” according to The New York Times.

In reality, Beijing has since at least 2017 sought to erase Uyghur culture, detaining more than one million Uyghurs in hundreds of prison camps across Xinjiang.

Early this year, the US State Department said the crackdown amounted to genocide. Canada and the Netherlands have since said the same.

Chinese authorities have in recent years forced Uyghurs to adopt mainstream Han Chinese culture, tried to slash Uyghur birthrates with birth control plans, and monitored their every move.

But “The Wings of Songs” glosses over all of these issues, according to reviews from Agence France-Presse and the Times.

Prominent examples of culture washing in the film include the fact that there are no references to Islam, AFP said, adding that more than half of the population of Xinjiang are Muslims.

Similarly, the Uyghur men in the film are depicted as clean-shaven and drinking alcohol, while Uyghur women are seen without their traditional headscarves, the Times said.

“The notion that Uyghurs can sing and dance so therefore there is no genocide – that’s just not going to work,” Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American lawyer, told the Times.

“Genocide can take place in any beautiful place.”

uighur protest china
A protest against China’s treatment of the Uyghurs held in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2020.

While making headlines abroad, the film appears to have been a damp squib at the Chinese box office.

As of Monday, it had generated just $109,000, according to data from the movie-ticketing company Maoyan, cited by the Times.

The state-run Global Times tabloid reported that the film was inspired by the success of the Oscar-winning 2016 musical “La La Land.”

Last month the US, European Union, Britain, and Canada announced sanctions against two Chinese officials for “serious human rights abuses” against Uyghurs.

Last week António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said that he had begun negotiating with Beijing to secure a visit to Xinjiang so that allegations of genocide could be examined.

China has denied the existence of the camps, and state media has in recent weeks slammed the US for meddling in its domestic affairs.

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Uighur women fleeing Xinjiang detention camps say they were victims of systemic rape: BBC report

uighur protest china
Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against China, in Istanbul, Turkey October 1, 2020.

  • Several women told the BBC there was systemic rape inside China’s detention centers for Uighurs. 
  • The stories follow other reports of physical, sexual, and mental abuse inside the camps. 
  • China has repeatedly denied any abuse and said the facilities were “re-education centers.” 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Women who fled detention camps in Xinjiang gave several accounts of systemic rape inside the centers, the BBC reported. 

Tursunay Ziawudun, who spent nine months in the detention centers before eventually fleeing to the US, told the BBC that women were taken from their cells “every night” and raped. 

“Perhaps this is the most unforgettable scar on me forever,” she told the BBC. Ziawudun said she was gang-raped three times.

She said men would select women they wanted from the cells, and have them taken to a dark room where there were no security cameras. She said the men wore masks even before the pandemic. 

In May 2018, Ziawudun said she and a cellmate were taken out and shown to a Chinese man. Her cellmate was taken into one room, where she could be heard screaming, according to Ziawudun’s account to the BBC. Ziawudun said she was sent to the “dark room” – even after the man was told she was having medical issues and bleeding. There Ziawudun told the BBC: “They had an electric stick, I didn’t know what it was, and it was pushed inside my genital tract, torturing me with an electric shock.”

The BBC could not completely verify Ziawudun’s story but reviewed travel documents and immigration records that corroborate the timeline of her story; her description of the camp matched satellite images, and her description of the treatment inside the camps matched those told by former detainees. 

Gulzira Auelkhan, a Kazakh woman who was detained for 18 months in the camps told the BBC that she was forced to strip the Uighur women naked and handcuff them. After the Chinese men left them, she would clean the room. 

“Then I would leave the women in the room and a man would enter – some Chinese man from outside or policeman. I sat silently next to the door, and when the man left the room I took the woman for a shower,” Auelkhan said. 

In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party constructed hundreds of prisons and detention centers in Xinjiang and the surrounding region, where the predominantly Muslim Turkic minority group lives. At least one million Uighurs have been detained in these camps. 

Previous reports from the camps have alleged that detainees were forced to consume forbidden foods in Islammass surveillance, and dealt with various other forms of psychological and physical torture.

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied any abuse and claimed the camps were for re-education and to prevent extremism. 

“The Chinese government protects the rights and interests of all ethnic minorities equally,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.

Adrian Zenz, an expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang told the BBC that the recent accounts provide “authoritative and detailed evidence of sexual abuse and torture at a level clearly greater than what we had assumed.”

Previous reports have also shown that Uighur women were forcibly sterilized and given unwanted abortions as part of China’s campaign to keep Muslim minorities’ birth rate down.

Uighurs in Xinjiang, including some in detention camps, have also been moved across China to forcibly work in factories, a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found. 

A December Center for Global Policy report found that in 2018, at least 570,000 people belonging to ethnic minority groups in Uighur regions were sent to pick cotton. 

Last month, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s actions towards the Uighurs tantamount to genocide.

On January 19, Pompeo said “we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state” in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Read the full story at the BBC »

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