Arbeit macht frei

Access Archive

1. Forced labor in Xinjiang camps

Emily Feng of the Financial Times reports (porous paywall) that Xinjiang’s internment camps have begun forcing their detainees to do manual labor making textiles and other products. Excerpt:

In interviews with the families of six Uighur and Kazakh detainees, relatives said detainees have been employed at textile factories with little to no pay after “graduating” from the region’s detention centres. They are not allowed to leave the factories and communication with relatives, if permitted, is heavily monitored…

…Two of Xinjiang’s largest internment camps — the Kashgar city and Yutian county vocational training centres — have opened forced labour facilities this year. Yutian’s detention centre boasts eight factories specialising in vocations such as shoemaking, mobile phone assembly and tea packaging, offering a base monthly salary of Rmb1,500 ($220), according to Chinese state media reports.

Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy of the New York Times have also reported (porous paywall) that “mounting evidence suggests a system of forced labor is emerging from the camps.” Some of the evidence:

Badger Sportswear, a company based in North Carolina, last month received a container of polyester knitted T-shirts from Hetian Taida, a company in Xinjiang that was shown on a prime-time state television broadcast promoting the camps…

…An early hint of the factory labor program came in March when Sūn Ruìzhé 孙瑞哲, the president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council, described it to senior industry representatives, according to a transcript of his speech that was posted on industry websites.

Mr. Sun said that Xinjiang planned to recruit from three main sources to increase the textile and garment sector’s work force by more than 100,000 in 2018: impoverished households, struggling relatives of prisoners and detainees, and the camp inmates, whose training “could be combined with developing the textile and apparel section.”

Both the FT and the NYT suggest that this development is a resurrection of the reeducation through labor (劳教 láojiào) system, which was formally abolished in 2013. That’s one way of looking at it. I have a darker view:

In her book One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, Andrea Pitzer writes:

It is easy to demonize countries that have resorted to camps and to judge their citizens as unrecognizable monsters. But a close look at history reveals that nearly every nation has used camps at some point, though the degree to which their populations have embraced them and the devastation wreaked by each camp system have varied wildly. Their worst effects tend to be dampened in freer societies, where legal systems and legislatures have an opportunity to act. Yet a relatively healthy democracy is just as capable of instituting camps as the most corrupt Communist society or military dictatorship, sometimes with horrific results.

With few exceptions, camps are generally created to address real crises. They rarely succeed, more often trailing such damage in their wake that the original crisis is eclipsed. Nevertheless, the mechanics of many camps are similar in the first years. Even the most grotesque and deliberate detention-based genocide — the camps system of the Third Reich — began much like many others.

The first point about demonization is important: Pitzer’s horror-show tour of global concentration camps makes stops in Guantanamo Bay and America’s World War II Japanese internment camps. Very few countries truly hold the moral high ground on this issue. My native land of South Africa is where the term concentration camp was first popularized, by the British.

But the final sentence in the excerpt above distills the unease I feel about the camps: “Even the most grotesque and deliberate detention-based genocide — the camps system of the Third Reich — began much like many others.”

What do you do after you lock up several hundred thousand or a million people? You can’t let them all go at once. No matter when you let them go, some of the traumatized will nurse resentments that will never go away. If you can’t let them go, you have to make the vast system of camps economically viable. So the next step is forced labor, and China has enough entrepreneurs who know a good manufacturing deal when they see one to make that work.

But what comes after that?

Other news about the camps and suppression of Islam:

International media has already reported that Uyghurs are being transferred to, and detained in, other provinces of China. Bitter Winter has uncovered further details about the movement, and what we are learning is disturbing. According to sources in Chinese Communist Party, the provinces of Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Heilongjiang, and others have been assigned quotas of detainees to take.

  • Indonesia: Will leaders speak out? Antara News reports that “the Indonesian Ulema Council strongly condemns oppression of Chinese Uyghurs. But it’s far from certain that the world’s most populous Muslim nation will unite around the issue. For more on this, see this Twitter thread from Aaron Connelly, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, or this Washington Post article: China goes all out to win favor with Indonesian Muslims.

  • Related on tourism: Forget Xinjiang’s re-education camps, China’s still a draw for Muslim tourists, says the South China Morning Post.

  • Desperate Pakistani men separated from wives in Xinjiang: The Associated Press reports on the “scores of Pakistani businessmen…whose spouses have disappeared.”

  • Gansu cracks down on halal labeling: “Northwest China’s Gansu Province recently abolished four halal-related local identification standards to fight the pan-halal tendency, which officials said would better protect the rights of minorities and curb religious extremism,” says the nationalist rag Global Times.  

  • A poignant read: My Uyghur friend, where are you?, an essay by Fadi Zatari on his disappeared classmate from the University of Frankfurt.

  • “Popular Uyghur singer and parents held in Xinjiang Political Re-education Camp,” reports Radio Free Asia.

2. Africans pooh-pooh Trump’s China-Africa policy

“When a press release announced that President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton would unveil a new American strategy for Africa, it raised the question: What was the old one?” says Bloomberg (porous paywall).

  • The new strategy is not clear either. Bolton announced it in a speech which you can read on the White House website. The mustachioed jingoist says the “strategy is the result of an intensive interagency process, and reflects the core tenets of President Trump’s foreign policy doctrine.”

  • The name of the strategy is “Prosper Africa.” It is intended to “support U.S. investment across the continent, grow Africa’s middle class, and improve the overall business climate in the region.”

  • However, China is mentioned 14 times in the speech, and Russia six times. Bolton is less concerned with growing Africa’s middle class than with the following:

  • Dissuading African governments from dealing with or borrowing from China and Russia; Bolton cites runaway debt to China and a military threat. He says that the new policy “will encourage African leaders to choose high-quality, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable foreign investment projects, including those from the United States.”

  • Reducing American aid to Africa: “The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization.”

  • Talking up the threat of radical Islam: Countering “the proliferation of Radical Islamic Terrorism, and other forms of violent conflict, across Africa… is the second priority under our new Africa strategy.”

Africans are not impressed. Judging from African Twitter and several commentaries in African newspapers, many people found Bolton’s speech extremely patronizing. There also seems to be a strong feeling that “Prosper Africa” will fail. Here are two responses which I think are representative:

  • “Whether the policy on South Sudan succeeds, there is a possibility of Juba shrugging its shoulders as long as China and Russia are bringing the money without conditions,” says Kenya’s Daily Nation, in an article titled “Trump’s Africa policy could open door for China to expand influence.”

  • “If China did not exist, John Bolton and Trump’s Africa policy would not exist,” tweeted Nigerian writer Onye Nkuzi:  

So what John Bolton outlined is not an “Africa policy”, but the African component of America’s China policy.

The past is their inspiration. They plan to refight a Cold War against Russia and China.

US is a “free and open society” — we all accept, but it is easier for a Nigerian passport holder to get a visa to China than it is to get a U.S. visa.

Now if you are into business, this matters — go to Guangzhou, do your business, make money, then watch CNN and Hollywood movies.

It doesn’t matter whether we like China or not; much of the economic growth witnessed in Africa over the past 20 years has been on the back of Chinese demand for Africa commodities. Until we find a substitute for this demand, we have to do business with them.

3. McKinsey parties in Xinjiang, next to internment camp

In the New York Times, Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe report:

This year’s McKinsey & Company retreat in China was one to remember.

Hundreds of the company’s consultants frolicked in the desert, riding camels over sand dunes and mingling in tents linked by red carpets. Meetings took place in a cavernous banquet hall that resembled a sultan’s ornate court, with a sign overhead to capture the mood…

…About four miles from where the McKinsey consultants discussed their work, which includes advising some of China’s most important state-owned companies, a sprawling internment camp had sprung up to hold thousands of ethnic Uyghurs.

The article goes on to describe a variety of ways that “McKinsey has helped raise the stature of authoritarian governments” around the world. If the subject interests you, read this Twitter thread by Michael Forsythe, which gives juicy details on McKinsey not found in the article.

Related on companies in Xinjiang: Evidence of Hikvision’s involvement with Xinjiang IJOP and re-education camps / IPVM

4. Trade war, day 165: Canada-China drama continues, as U.S. adds to pressure on Huawei

A few updates on the China-Canada hostage situation, the related subject of pushback on Huawei’s global expansion, and the technically unrelated but related via Donald Trump’s mouth subject of the U.S.-China trade war.

  • Both detained Canadians now have consular support, as Caixin reports that Michael Spavor has met with the Canadian ambassador, John McCallum.

  • The International Crisis Group, employer of other detained Canadian Michael Kovrig, is not happy: “Michael’s arrest is unjust. He should be freed immediately… The real danger to China comes from Michael’s arbitrary arrest and detention for these will have a chilling effect on people wanting to visit and engage with the country,” the NGO’s president, Robert Malley, said in a statement.

  • Canadian journalists are equally upset by the developments. Andrew Coyne at the National Post writes, “Let’s call China’s detention of Canadians by its proper name — kidnapping,” while the Globe and Mail made a broader statement about China-Canada relations in an editorial titled “The end of the Trudeau government’s China delusion.” An excerpt:

The case of Meng Wanzhou has torpedoed the Trudeau government’s China policy. At the same time, it has also sunk China’s Canada policy. Call it a win-win…

The fact that Beijing does not get how counterproductive its response has been is troubling. It does not require a deep understanding of the rule of law to realize that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have no power to order a judge in British Columbia to immediately release someone. But it’s how things work in China, where there is no rule of law. If the government says you’re guilty, you’re guilty. Those who rule make the rules.

It’s also shocking to realize that Beijing may be under the impression that it can threaten Canada into breaking with the United States – our neighbour, our main trading partner, our main ally and our fellow democracy and rule-of-law society. The Canadian-American relationship goes far beyond President Donald Trump. There is just no way Canada could violate a signed agreement with the United States, namely the extradition treaty, in order to appease China.

If Beijing doesn’t get this, then the Trudeau government’s illusions about China pale in comparisons to the Communist Party of China’s delusions about where Canada stands, and what Canada stands for.

While the charges against Huawei CFO Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 are purely about her alleged violations of Iran sanctions, her arrest occurs in the broader context of the U.S. government’s attempts to push back on Huawei’s technology. A significant update on that, via Reuters:

  • American wireless carriers Sprint and T-Mobile do not sell Huawei technology, but their owners, Japan-based Softbank and Germany-based Deutsche Telekom, respectively, do sell some.

  • That has reportedly been holding up Sprint and T-Mobile’s efforts to seal a $26 billion merger, because that merger depends on the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

  • Because Softbank and Deutsche Telekom have both recently signaled they will back away from using Huawei technology, CFIUS is now expected to approve the merger “as early as next week.”

While Deutsche Telekom’s turn against Huawei is significant for the future of Chinese technology in Germany and beyond, so is this:

  • “For such serious decisions like a ban, you need proof,” Arne Schoenbohm, the head of Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), said, AFP reports. There is “no evidence” of Huawei technology being used for spying that the BSI has seen, he added.

  • Huawei “remains a key supplier for huge swaths of the globe,” the Financial Times adds in a report (paywall), pointing to recently inked deals in Portugal and Poland, and the fact that both Malta and Papua New Guinea have “shrugged off the criticism of Huawei from the US and its allies.” A Huawei representative said that the company is working with “over 50 carriers” on 5G trials.

  • To learn more about the geopolitics of 5G, see this report from the Eurasia Group’s Paul Triolo and Kevin Allison.

Other trade and tech-war-related news:

  • American anti-engagement sentiment
    Foreign policy expert details why “engagement” with China failed / Axios
    Bill Bishop interviews James Mann, who wrote The China Fantasy arguing (correctly) that China would not liberalize as much as the West wanted it to back in 2007.
    America, China and the art of confrontation / FT (paywall)
    Gideon Rachman writes, “The president has recently tweeted about getting ‘a big and very comprehensive deal’ with China. That suggests that he is a ‘reset’ man. In real estate terms, he is aiming for a comprehensive renegotiation of the lease rather than a demolition of the building. However if you listen to some of Mr Trump’s senior officials — those who actually make policy on a daily basis — it is hard to avoid the impression that the US is settling into a long-term confrontation with China.”

  • Tech startups look to Southeast Asia
    Chinese tech start-ups are turning away from the US and towards Southeast Asia amid trade war, NYSE executive says / SCMP

  • WTO drama
    China, EU lambast United States for miring WTO in crisis / Reuters
    “The United States came under fire from China and the European Union on Monday, accused by both major trading partners of taking protectionist measures and bringing the World Trade Organization (WTO) to its knees. Japan, Switzerland and Canada also criticised Washington, but U.S. trade ambassador Dennis Shea charged that China’s ‘unfair competitive practices’ were harming foreign companies and workers in violation of WTO rules, and he vowed to lead reform efforts at the watchdog.”

5. Economic anxiety and slowing growth

A few hours after this newsletter hits your inbox, Xi Jinping will give a speech at “a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up,” according to Xinhua.

This speech could be hugely significant, as it comes at a time when China’s growth is slowing faster than expected, and Xi has an opportunity to outline how he will, as Bloomberg puts it (porous paywall):

Oversee a transformation in China’s markets, injecting more competition in financial services, upgrading technology, and tightening corporate governance, while waging a trade war with a U.S. administration bent on containing the Asian nation’s rise.

And as China’s economy is slowing faster than expected, as we noted last Friday, there is an increasing expectation that China will soon issue a stimulus package. But first, economist Christopher Balding writes (porous paywall), leaders “must decide whether boosting growth or controlling debt is more important.”

  • If a financial stimulus is issued, Nathaniel Taplin at the Wall Street Journal doesn’t expect (paywall) it to be large. That’s because, he says, “The central bank has [already] tried hard to boost bank lending, without much success…Absent deeper banking reforms, more liquidity would probably just mean higher interbank leverage and a bubbly government bond market—two problems the central bank spent much of 2016 and 2017 dealing with.”

  • If controlling debt is seen as the priority, which is what Reuters says some government advisors have argued for, the GDP target for 2019 could be set as low as 6.0-6.5 percent.

  • Or maybe it will be a bit of both: “Support for economic expansion is expected to emerge as the main priority for 2019, although the policymakers are likely to agree to lower the annual target for gross domestic product (GDP) growth in recognition of the headwinds, analysts said ahead of the Central Economic Works Conference (CEWC),” Caixin reports (paywall).

We’ll update you again tomorrow.

6. Google’s censored search engine plans suspended?

According to The Intercept — which broke the story in early August — Google’s “Project Dragonfly” to build a censored search engine for China is now without wings. Ryan Gallagher reports that there are both technical and political aspects to the apparent suspension:

  • An integral source of data for the project, the Beijing-based web domain, has been disconnected from Project Dragonfly after an interdepartmental conflict within Google.

  • The privacy team, whose job is to safeguard user rights, “only found out about the data access after The Intercept revealed it, and were ‘really pissed,’” leading to a “series of discussions” that led to the data set being closed off.

  • Google can’t build a good product without that data set: Though some engineers are still working on “studying ‘global Chinese’ queries,” the lack of data from within China makes it “virtually impossible for the Dragonfly team to hone the accuracy of results.”

  • Engineers have been reassigned: “several groups of engineers have now been moved off of Dragonfly completely, and told to shift their attention away from China to instead work on projects related to India, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East and Brazil.”

  • Executives’ secrecy about the plan may have doomed it: “Leaks about the plan and the extraordinary backlash that ensued both internally and externally appear to have forced company executives to shelve it at least in the short term, two sources familiar with the project said.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis


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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief



The New York Times asked me to write about these developments and on the day of his detention I wrote this short daily, and then a few days later this longer piece on the political sermons that might have resulted in his detention. One can only hope and pray that he will come out of jail or that the sentence will be light, but given the current climate I’m not so sure.


As an armchair architecture critic, one of the most distressing things to me about living in Beijing was the prevalence of that unholy union of European/American and Chinese architecture: the “Big Hat” (大屋顶 dawuding) building. So called for the tile-roof Chinese “hat” seemingly plopped onto a blocky, Western-style “suit,” dawuding buildings are nowhere so numerous as in China’s capital. A while ago I decided to look into the history of them, thinking that there must be some logic behind this ubiquitously ugly design.


Viral on Weibo: Meet China’s celebrity goat

Viral videos show a particularly gluttonous goat eating just about everything, from noodles and watermelon to kebabs and instant noodles.


Kuora: How to play the Chinese card game ‘Fight the Landlord’ (Dou Dizhu)

This week’s Kuora is an introduction to one of China’s most popular card games, Fight the Landlord (斗地主 dòu dìzhǔ). Admittedly, this is just one of several variations, but if you know the basics, you’ll be on your way to mastering it in no time.

The man who exposed China’s hotel hygiene horrors is receiving death threats

Beijing police have launched an investigation into death threats sent to activist blogger “Boss Hua lost the Monkey King’s magic wand” (@花总丢了金箍棒 Huāzǒng Diūle jīn gū bàng, hereafter Boss Hua). Boss Hua became a collective enemy of China’s hospitality industry this year after he posted a viral video showing insanitary conditions at several luxury hotels in the country, such as the Sheraton and Waldorf Astoria.

China’s best football team gets unfavorable World Cup draw

China, led by 2018 Asian Women’s Player of the Year Wang Shuang, was the first team to qualify for next year’s Women’s World Cup — apart from hosts France — but that hasn’t granted them any favors in the draw for the competition. Also in this week’s China Sports Column: MLB China has a new leader, whlie the Chinese swimming team looks to assert itself at the FINA Short Course Championships in Hangzhou.

Friday Song: ‘Boys (Chinese version)’ by Charli XCX

What does it mean for a song to have a “Chinese version,” as if it’s an option you can select on YouTube? In Charli XCX’s case, it means mastering an impressive grasp of Mandarin to record her catchy tune in Chinese, remixed by legendary Beijing DJ Howie Lee. The song was originally only released on Chinese platforms such as Xiami, QQ, and NetEase, where it garnered thousands of likes and comments and was popular with a niche audience.


Sinica Early Access: 40 years of reform and opening up, with Jude Blanchette

Jude Blanchette, the senior adviser and China practice lead at Crumpton Group’s China Practice, joins Kaiser and Jeremy for a live Sinica Podcast recording at Columbia University. Forty years after the policies of reform and opening up were adopted by the Communist Party of China, the three reflect on just how much the country has changed since 1978, and also restore figures like Zhào Zǐyáng 赵紫阳 and Hú Yàobāng 胡耀邦 to their proper place in the story of reform. In addition, Jude talks about the conservative reaction to reform — the topic of his forthcoming book, Under the Red Flag: The Battle for the Soul of the Communist Party in a Reforming China.

  • Sinica Early Access is an ad-free, full-length preview of this week’s Sinica Podcast, exclusively for SupChina Access members. Listen by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app.

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 72

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: A new report about China’s economy, the fall of Zhāng shǎochūn 张少春, the Made in China 2025 initiative, Doug Young on Apple in China, and more.


Harvest time

In a small village in Yunnan Province, people dry their corn and use it to eat, feed livestock, and brew liquor during the harvest season. There are few economic opportunities beyond subsistence farming in villages like this across China. As a result, many young people choose to work in bigger cities and some of them have to leave their children behind. Photo taken by Matthew Chitwood.