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‘Scale’ and ‘Scope’ of Forced Labor in Xinjiang Increasing, Report Says

Protesters at the United Nations with the Flag of East Turkestan. - photo: Students for a Free Tibet)
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Asim Kashgarian | Voice of America

WASHINGTON — A new report on Uyghur forced labor in China finds there may be an increase in Beijing’s coercive labor campaign targeting the predominantly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang, expanding a widely condemned program that China has long denied. 

“Despite the decrease in concrete publicly available evidence, the new developments are increasing both the scale and the scope of coercive labor, expanding it to higher-skilled sectors,” stated a report posted this week on the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation’s website. 

The report warned that “sectors requiring higher skills levels will in the future increasingly be at risk of coercive labor as well.” 

For Uyghurs who were forced into work placements in the past, China’s current five-year plan that started in 2021 now prevents Uyghurs from leaving their work through “unemployment and poverty prevention” policies and surveillance, according to the report.

Last year, Xinhua reported a study by Xinjiang scholars who interviewed 70 migrant workers from Xinjiang who said they chose to work away from home. Some of them said they were able to sightsee on holidays and weekends. The report described an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report on Uyghur forced labor as “lies.” The ASPI report said, based on government documents, workers were under “constant surveillance” and “have limited freedom of movement.” 

US law on Uyghur forced labor 

Uyghur forced labor has been at the forefront of U.S.-Sino tensions. A bipartisan letter was sent to President Joe Biden on June 6 by four U.S. lawmakers urging his administration to fully implement the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) that was signed into law last December. 

The U.S. law bans imports made with forced labor in Xinjiang and is set to go into effect on June 21.

Mihrigul Tursun, a young Uighur mother says she was tortured and subjected to other brutal conditions in one of the “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang. – credit: Share America website

The United States, along with some other Western governments and rights groups, accuse Beijing of genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, which China had repeatedly denied. The accusations include forced labor, sterilization, arbitrary detention of over 1 million people in internment camps, and the eradication of language and culture. 

“As authors of the legislation, we anticipate that full implementation of the law by the administration will demonstrate U.S. global leadership on the issue of modern slavery and accomplish the intent of Congress to prevent anybody from profiting off atrocities and to protect American consumers from having to use and consume goods made from forced labor,” the letter stated. 

In a June 2 press conference, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said “we have rebuked U.S. lies on ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang many times.” It charged that the UFLPA “maliciously smears the human rights conditions” in Xinjiang. 

“We urge the U.S. to refrain from enforcing the act, stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs and contain China’s development,” Zhao told the press in Beijing. “If the U.S. is bent on doing so, China will take forceful measures to firmly defend its own interests and dignity.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidance states that the Uyghur Forced Labor Act has a “presumption” that all products from Xinjiang are made with forced labor, and are banned from entering the U.S. unless companies are able to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that forced labor was not involved.

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