China is tearing apart ethnic minorities through forced labor transfer in Xinjiang

William Yang
6 min readMar 5, 2021

On Wednesday, several foreign media outlets revealed more evidence of China’s forced labor transfer program in Xinjiang based on a report leaked from China. Adrian Zenz, one of the leading experts on issues related to Xinjiang, published a report based on the leaked documents and said the Nankei Report offered authoritative evidence about China’s persecution of Uyghurs through forced labor transfer.

Question: The Nankei Report revealed on Wednesday offered more details about what the Chinese government plans to achieve through the large-scale forced labor program in Xinjiang. How did these new facts help to improve the international community’s understanding of the scale or purpose of the forced labor program in Xinjiang?

Adrian Zenz: Firstly, the Nankei Report provides unprecedented evidence on the coercive nature of the entire process of transferring Uyghurs to other parts of Xinjiang and China. It’s unprecedented in its details as the report talks about security guards accompanying them, the recruitment quota set by the government, and other details all in one document.

Previously, we have some pieces of information here and there, but now we have an all-in-one comprehensive document. The most important thing is that it’s a very authoritative source. Previously, some of the relevant researches are from informal sources, like Baidu Tieba, where everyone can post and we can’t verify the identity of the person who posts it.

The Nankei report is a very authoritative source because it’s written by very high-profile academics, one of them is a current dean of the school and a former senior government official.

The report also says that labor transfer should be increased because they provide cheap labor to eastern China and can reduce the labor cost of companies in that region.

The second aspect is that for the first time, we have an authoritative statement that proves that labor transfers are not just primarily economic in purpose, but they also have the purpose of assimilating Uyghurs into Han Chinese culture, which is designed to transform their minds.

It also has the purpose of reducing population density in southern Xinjiang. There is additional evidence from other publicly published Chinese academic research papers on the same topic in my other research projects. It talks about how labor transfer is a crucial and strategic method to break up Uyghur societies and overcome the impact of religion.

There is also evidence of the scale of transferring Han Chinese settlers to southern Xinjiang. The documents speak of a plan to settle 300,000 additional Han Chinese to southern Xinjiang by 2022. In the Nankei Report, we have the first picture of the population-altering strategy that China is pursuing with the Uyghurs through labor transfer.

Labor transfer has become a core aspect of an unholy triangle, which is made up of labor transfer, birth prevention, and the internment campaign. These are three components of a comprehensive strategy of social and cultural re-engineering.

Question: Previously, we have seen foreign governments trying to pressure China from ending the forced labor campaigns. On the other hand, there were human rights groups launching international campaigns to force companies to promise to remove all elements of Xinjiang’s forced labor programs out of their supply chains. How can foreign governments or organizations make use of the new evidence revealed in the Nankei Report?

Adrian Zenz: The new revelation provides strong and authoritative confirmation of some of the things that were slightly speculative before. They make it clear that these labor transfer programs are forced and perhaps more importantly they raise the level of atrocity that is committed through labor transfers to the next level.

The legal analysis that was co-published with my research shows this meets the criteria of crimes against humanity of forceful transfer of civilian population. Labor transfer is a worse atrocity than previously assumed. It’s not just about forced labor for economic purposes, but labor transfer is a crime against humanity because they forcibly tear apart a population.

For international businesses, this creates such a moral imperative and a threat to their reputation. The ramification of being complicit in this scheme has increased dramatically through the new revelation.

Since a lot of them have adopted a “wait and see approach”, now more than ever, it’s clear that the strategy is not going to be possible.

Question: The Chinese government has described the content of the Nankei Report as the author’s personal views, insisting that it is not in line with facts. But with all the evidence coming out of a report published by China, do you think there is now less room for Beijing to shrug off responsibility? At the same time, China now has some influence over the United Nation’s Human Rights System so how can the UN make use of its human rights mechanisms to hold China accountable?

Adrian Zenz: China is facing a big problem with the Nankei Report, because it was produced by former senior government officials and it’s very clear that these researchers have high-level access to Xinjiang. They also have high-level meetings with local counterparts.

This means that they have first-hand insights about the system and they also can get definite answers from local government officials about how they execute forced labor transfer. The report was submitted to the central government authorities.

Any claims made by Beijing are refuted by details from the document. Also, many aspects of the Nankei Report are corroborated by government documents published in my report. Beijing’s claims are completely futile and they have been fully exposed.

The evidence of forced labor is now on the table and there is basically no more discussion. We can always look for more details but the scheme is already exposed. But what can the United Nations do?

Unfortunately, the United Nations has been highly co-opted by Beijing over the years through very deliberate strategies. They even try to manipulate the definition of human rights. It is really up to individual governments that are willing to take steps to make a difference.

The United States has gone ahead but it also needs to take more steps to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which tackles the labor export of Uyghurs to other provinces.

The current measures adopted by the U.S. government don’t address supply chains tainted by Uyghur forced labor transfer to other provinces. It only tackles Xinjiang. Other governments need to follow suit, especially the European Union.

Question: With more details now becoming publicly available, do you think some international standards to prevent forced labor can be established based on new findings from the Nankei Report?

Adrian Zenz: This would be an ideal case scenario but unfortunately, I think the status of the international related situation is not adequate for this. You need to be at the level of the World Trade Organization in order to be authorized to take such steps.

I think the world hasn’t yet seen such a large-scale, government-run system of forced labor. This now is so much bigger because it’s part of China. I think the international community doesn’t have the tools to roll this out quickly and effectively through multilateral institutions.

The scheme requires the creation of new mechanisms to tackle this at the global level. It needs to be done that way rather than waiting for individual governments to make the move. However, I think we have to recognize the unprecedented nature of this government-run scheme and it needs to be addressed in new ways.

This interview was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.



William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.