China has defended its ‘vocational training centers’ in the Xinjiang white paper but it continues to face severe criticism from the outside world over its policies in Xinjiang
China released a white paper, the first-of-its-kind, on Thursday, September 17, claiming that the country’s far western Xinjiang region provided “vocational training” to nearly 1.3 million workers every year on average from 2014 to 2019.
Titled “Employment and Labour Rights in Xinjiang,” the white paper stated that the regional government had organized “employment-oriented training on standard spoken and written Chinese, legal knowledge, general know-how for urban life and labor skills” to improve the structure of the workforce and combat poverty.
It added that vocational training had been provided to an average of 1.29 million urban and rural workers every year from 2014 to 2019. Among those workers, 451,400 belonged to the impoverished southern Xinjiang region with poor access to education and inadequate job skills, which China claimed, was because the residents were influenced by “extremist thoughts”.
Chinese media reports state that the 2014-19 period also saw regional authorities introduce a “systemic de-extremification” campaign to combat terrorism and curb extreme religious ideologies.
According to observers, the white paper from the State Council – China’s cabinet, is probably the first time the Chinese administration has “indirectly” confirmed the scale of the camps.
Media reports quoted an unnamed mainland-based academic with expertise in Xinjiang issues, who considered it to be the first time Beijing had “indirectly acknowledged” the number of ethnic Muslim minorities receiving “vocational training” under the “de-extremification” program or, as critics would argue, “held captive in the camps.”
“If you take into account the timing of China’s de-extremification measures that began in 2014, the ‘1.3 million people being trained per year from 2014 to 2019’ is very close to the number [in the camps] estimated by Western critics,” said the academic, on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“But China does not see these training facilities as internment camps, and what it is really trying to highlight [through the white paper] – to counter Western criticism – is that the ‘vocational training’ they provide is actually a social service to improve people’s livelihoods and alleviate poverty,” the academic added.
Shih Chien-yu, a lecturer on Central Asian relations at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University, said that the white paper had given a number for the first time on the “reeducation program” in Xinjiang but did not give a definition of “vocational training” or say how the numbers were calculated. He added that the white paper also did not respond to claims that people had been subjected to forced labor.
Shih emphasized that it was likely that the white paper was Beijing’s response to the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act that is going through the United States Congress and the motive behind the paper’s release is to assure the West, especially the US, that there are no human rights abuses happening in Xinjiang.
“I think the tone of this white paper is really weak. It’s basically trying to explain to the US that ‘I didn’t do anything, there’s been some misunderstanding’,” Shih said.
“But it doesn’t address the important points – there have been anti-Muslim issues. The over 1 million people estimated to have been sent for political re-education cannot be explained away by ‘labor’ and ‘employment’,” he added.
The revelation comes at a time when the western world and several human rights organizations have strongly criticized China for allegedly detaining Uighurs and otter ethnic minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang.
China has been accused of politically indoctrinating around one million detainees and subjecting them to forced labor in the camps, an allegation which Beijing has denied. The Chinese administration has insisted that what critics refer to as “detention camps” are actually “vocational training centers” where people learn language and job skills.
The US blocks Chinese goods made in Xinjiang
Last week, the US blocked a range of Chinese products which it claimed to be produced by forced labor in Xinjiang. The US alleged that some of these products – which include cotton, garments, hair products and electronics – were manufactured in a center which the US called a “concentration camp” for Uighur minorities.
Referring to a Vocational Skills Education and Training Centre in Xinjiang, the US Homeland Security acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said, “This is not a vocational center, it is a concentration camp, a place where religious and ethnic minorities are subject to abuse and forced to work in heinous conditions with no recourse and no freedom. This is modern-day slavery.”
Mark Morgan, the US acting commissioner of the customs and border protection agency Mark Morgan, accused China of “systematic abuses against the Uighur people” and other minorities.
The Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which is co-sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Representative James McGovern and is currently in the US Congress, aims at altering existing rules and imposing import bans on goods produced in Xinjiang unless it can be ascertained that the items were not made by forced labor.
In June, US President Donald Trump signed into law the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which condemns the alleged human rights violations of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group mainly residing the Xinjiang region in western China, and authorizes the imposition of US sanctions against Chinese officials found to be responsible for the persecution of Uighurs.
On September 14, the US Senate Democrats announced a US$350 billion plan to confront China and deliver a clear message that the US will maintain a tough stance against Beijing regardless of who wins the November 3 presidential election. The bill, called the America LEADS Act, comes as the US-China relations continue to deteriorate, with both Republicans and Democrats arriving at a rare agreement to recognize China as a threat to global stability.
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