Report: China Using Uyghur ‘Slave Laborers and Cannon Fodder’ to Boost Economy

This photo taken on September 13, 2019 shows people on a street in a small village where ethnic Uighurs live on the outskirts of Shayar in the region of Xinjiang. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Videos of seemingly hundreds of Muslim Uyghurs leaving western Xinjiang province to work in factories elsewhere indicate that China is plugging the holes in its economy caused by the Wuhan coronavirus with “slave laborers and cannon fodder,” the human rights publication Bitter Winter asserted on Wednesday.

Bitter Winter’s report follows a flurry of similar revelations from research institutes and media outlets like Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the Chinese Communist Party is repurposing many of the estimated 1 to 3 million Uyghur and other Muslim ethnic minority prisoners in Xinjiang’s concentration camps as slaves thousands of miles from home. It also follows celebratory coverage in Chinese state media of its “roaring” economy growing by selling faulty, hastily manufactured medical equipment to countries struggling to contain their domestic coronavirus epidemics.

The Wuhan coronavirus originated in the eponymous central Chinese city of 11 million in November 2019. Communist Party officials denied the existence of an outbreak for months and the World Health Organization (WHO) assured the world that the virus was not contagious among humans. By January 2020, the outbreak had become too difficult to hide in Wuhan and Beijing admitted it had identified a novel coronavirus.

One study found that, had the Chinese Communist Party followed the advice of the doctors it arrested for warning of a contagious disease before the end of January, it could have prevented 95 percent of the world’s Wuhan coronavirus cases. The study used the only available numbers for cases and deaths in China – those from the Communist Party, now believed to be between ten to 12 times lower than the real extent of the epidemic.

Now, to respond to the world’s demand for medical gear to handle those cases, China appears to be shipping Uyghurs to its empty factories to exploit their forced labor.

“TikTok and DouYin videos pouring out of Xinjiang during the past two weeks have confirmed fears that Beijing is using Uyghur and other Turkic youth as slave laborers and cannon fodder to kickstart the Chinese economy,” Bitter Winter reported on Wednesday. The Communist Party not only appeared to not censor the videos, but shared some of them as positive propaganda, claiming the Uyghurs were doing their patriotic duty out of a willingness to help Beijing get rich:

Some of the videos were Chinese Government propaganda showing happy Uyghurs setting off to seek their fortunes, as part of its three-year “poverty alleviation drive” which aims to eradicate absolute impoverishment by 2020. One caption described 850 laborers from impoverished families in Hotan who were arriving by special train in Korla to work for six companies, including the Zhongtai textile group and the Litai Silk road company.

 

Other videos surfaced thanks to the work of Uyghur activists. Many of these appeared on RFA last week.

“These videos came out at the time when coronavirus was spreading in China and around the world, when most Chinese companies were shutting down and no-one was working,” Alim Seytoff, a journalist with RFA, told Bitter Winter. “And we only see the mass transfer of Uyghur laborers to other parts of China at this time.”

Days after the publication of the videos, Chinese state media applauded the Communist Party for getting the Chinese economy’s “engine roaring,” framing manufacturing of faulty medical supplies in the country as a humanitarian gesture to the world to “ensure global medical supplies amid the pandemic.” Multiple European countries – including Spain, Romania, and the Netherlands – have complained that medical equipment purchased from China does not actually protect health workers.

On Wednesday, China Daily, a Communist Party propaganda outlet, reported that “as of March 25, 96.6 percent of the large and medium-sized enterprises surveyed by purchasing managers in China had resumed work, 17.7 percentage points higher than on Feb 25.” The newspaper celebrated China’s “significant, positive change in production and business operations from the previous month.” It did not explain how it was possible for these enterprises to resume work when much of China continues to struggle to contain the Chinese virus. China claims the outbreak has largely subsided, reopening public transportation in its origin, Wuhan, but independent reports suggest that many Chinese citizens are still too infirm to return to work.

Optimism from the Communist Party has prompted lavish expenditures by some Chinese investors. In Cambodia, Chinese casino owners are splurging on golden urinals, expecting the economic boom from selling unusable medical equipment to the world to finally prompt a profitable wave of tourists to the Southeast Asian country.

The Bitter Winter and RFA reports follow a bombshell study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last month that identified 83 large international companies manufacturing products in Chinese factories serviced by Chinese slaves. The report, “Uyghurs for Sale,” revealed that the Communist Party has implemented government programs to entice factories to accept Uyghur slaves as workers with financial incentives. Many of these factories hold contracts for manufacturing products with companies like Apple, Nintendo, BMW, Sony, and Google, who turn a blind eye as to how the companies get the items made.

“The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country,” ASPI revealed. “Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.”

China claimed late last year, before evidence surfaced of the mass transfer of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities to factories outside of Xinjiang, that most of its concentration camp victims had “graduated” from “vocational training” and were soon to begin working new jobs.

Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) recently published comments by a national military official, chief of Division of Non-traditional Security and Military Missions Tsun-yen Wang, concluding that “Xinjiang Uyghurs, who are strictly controlled and are not able to resist, have become the easiest to secure for labour use to support China’s precarious economic security.”

The Chinese Communist Party claims it has identified only 76 cases of Wuhan coronavirus in Xinjiang as of Wednesday and three deaths, despite tortured and infirm Uyghurs and others being forced to live in close quarters in the province’s concentration camps. China opened Xinjiang’s schools again last week, despite little evidence the pandemic has abated.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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