1 big thing ... Scoop: China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance
Chinese schools receiving World Bank loans wanted to buy facial recognition technology for use against Muslims in Xinjiang, according to documents obtained by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios' new China expert.
- Why it matters: The World Bank loan program in Xinjiang shows the extreme moral hazard facing organizations operating in the region, where China has built a surveillance state and detained more than 1 million ethnic minorities.
A World Bank-funded school unsuccessfully requested a facial-recognition software system to create a "blacklist face database that can be set and armed."
- The purpose: "[W]hen blacklisted individuals pass through," the images could be sent directly to Chinese police.
In more than 8,000 pages of World Bank Chinese-language procurement documents dated June 2017, participants in the loan program requested tens of thousands of dollars to buy facial recognition cameras and software, night-vision cameras, and other surveillance technology for Xinjiang schools.
- The World Bank told Axios those funds were not provided.
- A World Bank spokesperson said: "[I]nclusive societies are key to sustainable development, and we take a strong line against discrimination of any kind."
What happened: In 2015, the World Bank began a loan program providing $50 million over five years to five Xinjiang vocational schools.
- By 2017, China had blanketed Xinjiang with surveillance tech that it used to force Uighurs and other ethnic minorities into internment camps Beijing calls "vocational training centers."
- The World Bank didn't review or scale back the program at that time.
In August, the loan program came under congressional scrutiny for possible complicity in China’s repression.
- In November, the World Bank announced it was scaling back the program.
- But the five original schools continue to receive World Bank funding.
A World Bank spokesperson told Axios that procurement documents had not been translated into English, making oversight difficult because only Chinese-speaking staff could read them.
Go deeper: Read the procurement documents.