US companies profit from Uighur forced labor?

A leading US sportswear company this week announced that it has dropped a Chinese supplier over concerns that its products were made by forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang. Reports have mounted that the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs believed to be held in a fast-expanding system of detention camps are being put to forced labor for Chinese commercial interests. "These people who are detained provide free or low-cost forced labor for these factories," according to Mehmet Volkan Kasikci, a researcher in Turkey who has collected accounts of inmates in the factories by interviewing relatives who have left China. "Stories continue to come to me," he told the New York Times last month. An Associated Press investigation tracked recent shipments from one such detention-camp factory, run by the privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel, to Badger Sportswear of North Carolina.

Under growing international pressure, China, after long denying that the camps exist, now says it would welcome UN officials to inspect them—with caveats. "Xinjiang is an open region, we welcome all parties, including UN officials, to visit, if they abide by China's laws and regulations, and go through the proper travel procedures," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. But he warned that UN officials should also "avoid interfering in domestic matters" and adopt an objective and neutral attitude. (Al Jazeera)

During a first visit to three of the camps by foreign reporters this week, officials said the "vocational training centers" have reduced extremism by teaching Xinjiang residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin. Reporters were shown classrooms where detainees learned about China's geography. Wrote Reuters: "There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of 'If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands' that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit." 

Targeted disappearances in Xinjiang

Chinese authorities appear to be continuing their targeting of Uighur cultural figures for detention. The New York Times notes the case of Qurban Mamut, editor of the magazine Xinjiang Civilization, who actually retired in 2011 and apparently always stayed within the bounds of what was permissible discourse during the years he worked there—yet has nonetheless been detained.

But there are many more. Also among those believed to be detained in the camps is the Uighur comedian Adil Mijit, who performed hundreds of shows each year in Xinjiang before disappearing in early November. (CBC, Dec. 31) Also believed to be held is Zahirshah Ablimit, a musician from Atush (Chinese: Atushi), in Xinjiang's Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture, who toured cities throughout China while singing modern pop and traditional Uighur folk songs over the course of a 15-year career. (RFA, Dec. 17) 

Hardly surprisingly, those who protest the mass detentions are themselves targeted. Authorities earlier last year reportedly arrested a Uighur court official for "two-faced" tendencies after he spoke out. Ghalip Qurban (Chinese: Alifu Kuerban), deputy head of the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, was detained upon returning from attending a conference in Beijing in April. He had previously been called for several "chats" with State Security Ministry agents. It is unclear if he has been interned for "re-education" or actually faces criminal charges. (RFA, Dec. 18)

China plan to 'Sinicize' Islam

China is developing a five-year plan for the "sinicization" of Islam, according to the government-backed China Islamic Association. Representatives from local Islamic associations from eight provinces and regions, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan, Yunnan, and Qinghai, discussed the plan at a meeting on Jan. 5. The plan will focus on requiring mosques to to uphold "core values of socialism, traditional culture, laws and regulations," Association president Yang Faming told the meeting, which was organized by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department. (RFA, Global Times)

China persecution of Uighur intellectuals documented

A report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project found that Chinese authorities have interned, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared 338 Uighur intellectual, academic and cultural figures since April 2017. The UHRP is calling upon universities, researchers, and cultural programs to suspend all cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Education until the camps are closed, the victims compensated, and perpetrators brought to justice.