The “China Cables,” a trove of 400 pages worth of leaked internal Chinese government documents, have provided the international community the “smoking gun” evidence it needs to pressure or punish Beijing for its systematic efforts to erase and annihilate 12 million ethnic Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. China has used an array of repressive measures that invoke memories of the worst Communist-led pogroms of the 20th century.
The leaked documents are so detailed that they even outline directives for school teachers on how they should address students whose parents have “disappeared.” They also provide a bird’s-eye view of how Chinese government officials are operating what amounts to a network of concentration camps holding upwards of 3 million Uyghur detainees.
Ultimately, these documents corroborate what has become a Mount Everest-scale pile of evidence against Beijing, thus making it impossible for the other 192 nation-state members of the international community to turn a blind eye to what has become the largest industrial-scale persecution of a religious minority since the Holocaust. The accounts of torture, gang rape, public executions, family separations, forced adoptions, forced marriages, forced sterilizations, and forced labor camps now are as credible as they are widespread.Crimes
The revelation of this voluminous and real-time evidence of China’s crimes against humanity has done little, however, to persuade the international community to do anything to bring about an end to the camps and the victimization.
In fact, the United Nations has been split into two camps regarding China. The first is comprised of a coalition of 22, mostly Western democracies, including the United States, who co-signed an open letter in July calling on Beijing to end its human rights violations in Xinjiang. The second is comprised of a coalition of 37 mostly Middle Eastern and African nations, who co-signed a counter-letter expressing support for Beijing’s “counter-terrorism measures” and praise for its “vocational and training” camps, thus echoing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda.
Incredibly, the second camp includes a dozen Muslim majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, Syria, and Algeria. These countries are not only dependent on Chinese investment and trade, but also express their own fears about Islamist political groups, and potential separatist and anti-regime forces.
These geo-political dynamics coupled with the fact that China occupies one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council has stymied any meaningful effort to put pressure on Beijing. This has left only individual states, non-state members of the international community, or coalitions outside of the UN with the potential to exact an economic cost from the Asian power’s persecution of the Uyghurs.
A global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement—similar to that used against apartheid South Africa during the 1980s and Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories today—that mobilizes focused opposition to China’s forced labor camps is the kind of collective action that will expose Beijing’s soft underbelly.
“Under the label ‘vocational education and training plus,’ the region is wooing mainland enterprises to train and employ internment camp detainees,” observes Adrian Zenz, a prolific researcher on China’s ethnic policy in Xinjiang and a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“Participating companies receive 1,800 RMB (US$ 256) per camp detainee they train, and a further 5,000 RMB (US$ 713) for each detainee they employ,” he asserts.
In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, Zenz claims that Beijing openly flouts its violation of both Chinese and international law, noting that the Xinjiang regional government’s website boasts that its forced labor program “has attracted a large number of coastal enterprises from the mainland to invest and build factories, which has powerfully expanded employment and promoted increased incomes.”
Numerous reports have already demonstrated how Western corporations have become “entangled” in China’s campaign to forcibly assimilate its Muslim population. These include Coca Cola, Volkswagen, H&M, Adidas, Kraft Heinz Corporation, Gap Inc., Hennes & Maurtiz AB, and others. If these companies do not reexamine their supply chains and change the way they do business, then purchasers should vote with their wallets and target them through a BDS campaign.
“The only viable solution is to consider the entire region to be thoroughly tainted with different forms of coercive labor. This means that nothing made in whole or in part with products from Xinjiang should have any place in an ethically clean supply chain,” argues Zenz.
Western democracies, particularly wealthy G20 nations should follow the United States’ lead in putting in place policies that prevent the import of goods and services made with forced labor, a law the US has had in place since Section 307 of the US Tariff Act was enacted in 1930.
Earlier this year, the European Parliament requested members put forward a legislative proposal that could “pave the way for a complete ban on the importation into the EU of goods produced through modern forms of slavery or forced labour, especially forced work of vulnerable groups extorted in violation of basic human rights standards.”
“Supply-chain specialists and industry experts could assist lawmakers in designing the scope of any forced-labor presumption. The presumption could apply not only to goods exported from particular locations but also to specific types of Chinese-made goods known to frequently involve components from Xinjiang,” observes Lawfare, an online magazine focused on issues pertaining to national security.
A BDS campaign against businesses that continue to exploit Uyghur suffering in Xinjiang would come at a time when the Chinese economy is as its weakest and most vulnerable in two decades, with the country experiencing a significant decline in exports and a steep rise in unemployment. Moreover, it would expose China’s soft underbelly at the same time US trade tariffs are exacerbating the country’s economic woes.
Ultimately, if a boycott of Xinjiang-sourced products is to work, then it will need the international community to act like 13 million Uyghur lives depend on it, which they do.