Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers from the World Bank about its continued operation of a $50 million loan program in Xinjiang, following Axios reporting on the loans.

Why it matters: The Chinese government is currently waging a campaign of cultural and demographic genocide against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, in northwest China. The lawmakers contend that the recipients of the loans may be complicit in that repression.

In a letter dated Aug. 12 and addressed to World Bank Group president David Malpass, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, pointed to specific concerns about the activities of the schools that have received funding.

What they're saying: "We continue to have serious concerns about the World Bank’s continued disbursement of a loan to the [Xinjiang] Department of Education after it became aware of the mass internment of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in the region," wrote McGovern and Rubio.

Background: Axios reported in December 2019 that World Bank partner schools in Xinjiang had requested tens of thousands of dollars to fund advanced surveillance equipment — including facial recognition systems — that connected directly to local public security bureaus.

  • Xinjiang is the site of a sweeping Chinese government campaign to forcibly assimilate Uighurs and other ethnic minorities through mass surveillance and detention.
  • The bank did not provide funding for the equipment but continued to disburse the loan even after the unusual request.
  • After media scrutiny, the bank scaled back but did not discontinue the Xinjiang loan program.

The lawmakers referenced the Axios report on the funding request, stating, "We would like to better understand why the World Bank considered it appropriate to work with these five vocational schools when they were seeking to purchase this type of equipment."

Go deeper: China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance in Xinjiang

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