China brings Xinjiang-style mass labor to Tibet, report says

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China is instituting a mass labor system in Tibet similar to the one in neighboring Xinjiang, the Jamestown Foundation said, despite intensifying global scrutiny of Beijing’s policies toward ethnic minorities.

Tibet has since last year introduced policies promoting “the systematic, centralized, and large-scale training and transfer of ‘rural surplus laborers'” to other parts of Tibet and other regions, the Jamestown Foundation said in a report released Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. More than half a million laborers went through the program in the first seven months of this year, according to the report, written by Adrian Zenz, a leading researcher into China’s Xinjiang policies.

Beijing established quotas for the mass transfer of rural laborers to training centers, Reuters reported separately Tuesday, citing state media reports, policy documents and procurement requests going back to 2016 that corroborated Zenz’s findings.

“The labor transfer policy mandates that pastoralists and farmers are to be subjected to centralized ‘military-style’ vocational training, which aims to reform ‘backward thinking’ and includes training in ‘work discipline,’ law, and the Chinese language,” Zenz said. Training photos from Tibet’s Chamdo region described in the report suggested that the sessions were being supervised by the People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary force.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement to Reuters that forced labor “simply does not exist” in the country, adding that workers participated voluntarily and were properly compensated. “We hope the international community will distinguish right from wrong, respect facts, and not be fooled by lies,” the ministry said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing later Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of the report.

The revelations will feed fears that China is expanding rather than rolling back policies toward ethnic minorities that have drawn international condemnation and prompted U.S. sanctions. The reports were published hours ahead of a planned speech to the UN General Assembly by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who in a meeting with European leaders last week pushed back against questions about Beijing’s human rights practices.

Both Tibet and Xinjiang have long endured intense social, security and religious controls as China seeks to suppress what is says are terrorist and separatist elements. Both areas have been overseen by Chen Quanguo, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo who has been sanctioned by the Trump administration for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The Tibet revelations could feed U.S. efforts to expand punitive measures against China and restrict U.S. trade ties to the country. The U.S. is exploring the possibility of seizing all cotton imports from China’s Xinjiang region, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told Bloomberg TV last week.

Chinese diplomats and state media outlets have repeatedly lashed out at Zenz, whose 2018 research was among the first to show that the government had detained more than 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Zenz earlier this month “of making a living from fabricating rumors about Xinjiang and slandering China.”

Government reports on efforts to alleviate poverty in Tibet “bluntly say that the state must ‘stop raising up lazy people,'” Zenz wrote in his latest report.

“Tibetans are to be transformed from ‘[being] unwilling to move’ to becoming willing to participate, a process that requires ‘diluting the negative influence of religion,’ Zenz said. “This is aided by a worrisome new scheme that ‘encourages’ Tibetans to hand over their land and herds to government-run cooperatives, turning them into wage laborers.”

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