Jul 26, 2022 - World

Report: Xinjiang paramilitary group has "central role" in genocide

Illustration of a map of Xinjiang province with hand drawn arrows, dots and lines pointing towards its center.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Chinese state-run paramilitary group in Xinjiang is more deeply involved in the regional government's repressive policies towards Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities than previously understood, a new report found.

Why it matters: The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) manages large swaths of the region's agriculture and industry and holds shares in thousands of companies — meaning its products are connected to supply chains throughout the world.

  • The group is already sanctioned by the U.S. government.

What they found: The report lays out how the XPCC is responsible for systematic forced migration, forced labor, mass internment, land expropriation, repressive policing and religious persecution targeting Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

  • "The XPCC has operationalized these programs in the last five years to create a reign of terror," says the report, published Tuesday by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K.
  • The group was "dispatched by the top levels of the party-state to act as a military and industrial force to suppress Uyghur dissent" and "plays a critical and central role" in the genocide now underway in Xinjiang.

Here's how the group enables the repression, per the report:

Land expropriation: XPCC officials pressure rural Uyghur landowners to transfer their land ownership to others, and instead work in factories or other industries. In one village, the report found, 70% of the land had been transferred from Uyghur owners.

  • This serves two purposes: destroying traditional Uyghur culture and communities tied to their ancestral land, and enriching the XPCC or others who receive the land and then use it for industrial or agricultural development.

Diluting Uyghur population: The Chinese Communist Party tasked the XPCC with "expand[ing] the proportion of the population" that is Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the report states.

  • In 2018, the XPCC began offering special employment and housing opportunities for Han Chinese workers in other parts of China to settle in Xinjiang's majority-Uyghur south, where the Uyghur population has been most affected by mass internment.

Mass internment: The XPCC has always operated prisons. But around 2016, under orders from the government, the XPCC began filling those prisons with Uyghurs and building new prisons to accommodate even more detainees.

  • Many farms and factories operated by the XPCC have historically used prison labor. The newly expanded system of internment and indoctrination facilities also include factories built inside prison walls or right next door, according to the report.

By the numbers: The XPCC has corporate holdings that may be linked to up to 862,000 entities around the globe, according to business intelligence firm Sayari Labs.

  • The XPCC also holds a majority stake in at least 2,873 companies, according to research organization C4ADS.
  • The organization manages a quarter of Xinjiang's arable land.

What they're saying: "The explicit mission of the XPCC is the repression of the Indigenous people and cultures of the Uyghur Region," said Laura Murphy, co-author of the report and professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at Sheffield Hallam University.

  • "It is clearer than ever that governments need to ban the import of goods made by the XPCC or any of its subsidiaries," Murphy told Axios.
  • The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

The backstory: The Chinese government created the XPCC in the 1950s, a few years after the founding of the People's Republic of China, to establish control over Xinjiang, the homeland of the Uyghur people.

  • The XPCC is organized into regiments and divisions, which often govern the settlements, land, assets and in some cases universities where they are located.

What to watch: The report calls for governments around the world to publicly disclose customs data and to share lists of XPCC-owned companies.

  • It also calls on development banks to stop all dealings with XPCC companies.
  • "The whole architecture of repression in Xinjiang should be enough for other countries to sanction the XPCC too," said Luke de Pulford, director and co-founder of Arise, a non-profit that combats slavery and co-funded the report. "But they haven’t."

Go deeper: U.S. sanctions China's paramilitary in Xinjiang

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that the report was co-funded by Arise, not co-commissioned.

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