UWC Belt & Road Digest
Providing weekly updates on news related to Li Po Chun United World College’s Belt & Road centre
Most recent update: May 24, 2019. Scroll down past the introduction for the weekly updates.
In April 2018, Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong announced that the Lee Shau Kee Foundation was making a donation of HK$50 million to the college to start a Belt and Road centre. The center is named after the Chinese Communist Party’s Belt and Road Initiative. In its one public statement on the matter, LPC says that the centre will promote “cultural exchange” and intends to remain “politically impartial”.
But the very act of naming a centre after a government’s premiere foreign policy initiative is inherently politically partial. In particular, the Belt & Road Initiative is an attempt by the Communist Party to exert greater economic and political influence abroad, including promotion of its own authoritarian brand of governance, a project with which UWC definitely should not associate itself.
LPC is doing this at the very same time that the Communist Party has detained more than one million Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang and is attempting to destroy their culture and severely constrain their religious practices. How’s that for “cultural exchange”?
In this political context especially, LPC’s Belt & Road centre risks acting as a form of whitewashing or propaganda for the Communist Party.
To my knowledge, UWC has never named an educational institution after any particular government’s policies or initiatives. That in itself is unprecedented and represents a threat to academic freedom and institutional independence, but UWC allying itself with a regime committing one of the worst human rights abuses in the world right now is even more deeply troubling.
In September 2018, I asked LPC to refrain from naming the center Belt & Road. It has refused.
I have received information that the name was Lee Shau Kee Foundation’s condition for the donation; in other words, it was not a decision that started with LPC but was imposed upon it. This in itself is troubling in regard to institutional independence, as it appears that the name was dictated to LPC.
In October 2018, I asked the Board of United World Colleges, which oversees the 17 UWCs around the world, to intervene and express disapproval of the Belt & Road centre. Instead, the Board gave the project the green light.
In December 2018, UWC alumni organized a petition to LPC and UWC expressing concern about the Belt & Road centre. The petition garnered 350 signatures. LPC responded and said that the Belt & Road centre would go ahead.
It was originally scheduled to open in autumn 2019, but I have heard recently that the opening has been pushed back to 2020.
It is worth noting that the first article appeared in the UWC student newspaper Flying Dutchman. The editors of Flying Dutchman had agreed to publish the second article. Then the head of the UWC International office intervened, and the editors changed their mind. So even before the opening of the LPC Belt & Road centre, it is already having a negative impact on freedom of expression and UWC is engaging in censorship.
Starting on January 16, 2019, I began sending email newsletters to leaders of LPC, and members of the UWC Board, the UWC Council and the UWC International office. The newsletters were meant to provide updates matters related to LPC’s Belt & Road centre, in particular 1) Belt & Road, 2) the crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang, and 3) Chinese government threats to academic freedom and human rights outside of China. Below are those newsletters, organized chronologically, with the most recent first.
In the midst of campaigning against the LPC Belt & Road centre, I learned about UWC’s plan to start a new UWC in United Arab Emirates. The capital funding for the project reportedly comes entirely from one of the Emirs, and UWC’s agreement with the government reportedly allows for family of the Emir to sit on the school’s governing council. Just as LPC made its Belt & Road centre agreement as a million Muslims were getting interned in concentration camps in Xinjiang, UWC has planned its UAE school as UAE, together with Saudi Arabia, has invaded and occupied Yemen, causing one of the greatest humantiarian catastrophes in recent years. Like China, UAE is a dictatarship. But the UAE UWC is in one respect even worse than the Belt & Road centre, as UWC is allowing a government, or figures very close to the government, to participate in governance of a UWC.
I believe projects like the UAE UWC and the Belt & Road centre are indicative of UWC selling out and deprioritizing any values it may have had which are associated with its mission statement to promote peace through education. Through projects such as these, UWC is becoming entangled in relations with dictatorships which are hostile to international values of freedom, democracy and human rights.
UWC has justified these entanglements as “engagement”. It throws around this word as a kind of slogan. To my knowledge, UWC doesn’t actually have a fully thought-out or articulated strategy of “engagement” or any guiding principles for “engagement”. In lieu of those, “engagement” looks a lot like amoral opportunism. There are many different ways to “engage”. Some are defensible, legitimate and beneficial; some are not. “Engage” with whom? On whose terms? “Engage” with people or with governments? Taking money from dictators and their allies and allowing dictators and their allies to participate in UWC governance seem to me highly problematic forms of “engagement”, to put it mildly.
I believe UWC needs new leadership that is more enlightened, better informed about the state of the world, and committed to values consonant with international values and international law. Its statements give me the impression that it doesn’t think the issues I raise regarding Belt & Road have anything to do with LPC’s Belt & Road centre, as if UWC exists in a bubble separate from the real world out there. That’s presumably the very opposite of what a UWC education is intended to do, and yet these are the people steering UWC.
UWC should move toward more representative and transparent leadership, including elected representatives of UWC alumni, students and faculty on the Board. It should have a clearly articulated philosophy of what key terms of the mission statement such as peace and a sustainable future mean, and how they relate to UWC development. And it should adhere to that philosophy. It should also reinsert justice in the mission statement.
Ultimately, the LPC Belt & Road centre and the UAE UWC represent a failure of UWC leadership and a betrayal of the promise that UWCs once had to change the world for the better.
24 May 2019
· HSBC as tone deaf on BRI as UWC
· Chinese official confronted by demonstrators in Norway
· Australia’s China Challenge
· China Has Been Running Global Influence Campaigns for Years
· How China Uses High-Tech Surveillance to Subdue Minorities
· Ramadan in Xinjiang
HSBC as tone deaf on BRI as UWC
On its Twitter account, where it’s been promoting its role in BRI, HSBC asked in a promoted (ie, paid-for) tweet, “What do you think of when you hear the term Belt and Road?” It didn’t seem to have the faintest clue that among Twitter users who are interested in China, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, BRI has an overwhelmingly bad reputation. Of the deluge of responses it received, virtually all were negative. Some responded with photos of Uighurs in concentration camps in Xinjiang. Other answers included “debt trap colonialism,” “China scam,” “Neo-colonialism,” “Shoddily built highways in Uzbekistan” and “total crap.” Another was, “Companies like HSBC wanting to be part of opaque deals, deliberately kept secret from the local populations.” And yet another: “Big multinationals shamelessly shoe-shining the Chinese regime by name-dropping Xi’s ego-trip neo-colonial-ripoff-fantasy buzzword.”
This is what UWC has very unwisely yoked itself to, a project that has nothing to do with supposed UWC values, indeed is inimical to them, revealing just how cynical and probably desperate for funding UWC and Li Po Chun leaders are. If you want an honest mission statement, maybe it should be, “UWC: An international educational organization shamelessly shoe-shining the Chinese regime by name-dropping Xi’s ego-trip neo-colonial-ripoff-fantasy buzzword in return for nothing but a poison donation.”
Support for BRI is very thin and consists largely of Communist Party members and supporters, businesses that have calculated that profit lies in allying themselves with Party initiatives and objectives, and strongmen and dictators in countries offered financing and other forms of assistance by the regime. This is the company the Belt&Road Centre keeps. I suspect the reason Li Po Chun originally decided to accept the funding conditional on naming the centre Belt&Road is that its Board is largely made up of establishment types who hobnob in circles where BRI is considered uncontroversial. By latching itself to their poor decision made in a political bubble, UWC is pulling itself down as well.
Chinese official confronted by demonstrators in Norway
Following up on last week’s report, despite being moved to a distance away from the Norwegian parliament building, Uighur and Tibetan protesters could still be heard inside the meeting room where Chinese and Norwegian delegations met. The president of China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress was also asked by reporters what he thought of the protests, but he ignored the question.
“With Beijing pushing as far as it can wherever it can in the era of President Xi Jinping, Australia has become a global case study in Chinese government influence.” One of the main ways China has tried to exert influence is through pro-Communist businesses, just like the Party-allied tycoon who donated to Li Po Chun on the condition that it names its new centre Belt&Road. The article says that the Communist party is essentially trying to enforce the same bargain with Australia that it has with the Chinese people: a promise of prosperity in exchange for obedience and censorship. Is this essentially the bargain that UWC and Li Po Chun have made as well, perhaps without even having been fully aware of what they were getting themselves into?
This article is a look back at the 2008 protests in many cities against the Olympic torch passing on its worldwide tour to Beijing. In response, the Chinese government organized “patriotic” demonstrations. At the time, the writers say, the media and public didn’t really understand that these demonstrations were directed by the Chinese government, and the writers suggest that they set a precedent for the kind of global influence campaigns the Chinese government engages in today. Li Po Chun UWC’s Belt&Road Centre would of course be a perfect example of an effect of that global influence campaign.
The New York Times continues its hard-hitting series of reports on the use of high-tech surveillance against Muslims in Xinjiang. This article focuses on Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road city near the borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: “Treating a city like a battlefield, the [surveillance] platform was designed to ‘apply the ideas of military cyber systems to civilian public security’.”
Kashgar has a population of 720,000 — about 85 percent of them Uighur. The surveillance platform “draws on databases with 68 billion records, including those on people’s movements and activities.” Comparing that with the 19 billion records the FBI holds for the U.S. as a whole brings into relief the sheer scale of the massive surveillance presence, and of course, China’s is the only program that targets a whole minority population as a suspect group. There is very little “cultural exchange” of the sort Li Po Chun envisions with the Belt&Road Centre going on here.
Ramadan in Xinjiang
On another cultural note, Xinjiang expert Darren Byler has written a reflection on what being a Muslim in Xinjiang is like these days. Unsurprisingly, it’s an experience of oppression and prohibition. Reading this, it’s hard to imagine how Li Po Chun and UWC ever thought it appropriate to participate in a project like BRI, in the name of “cultural exchange” no less, carried out by a regime that is arguably engaged in cultural genocide.
17 May 2019
· Three recent examples of Chinese money negatively influencing values abroad
o Amnesty denied rental contract in NYC building owned by Chinese SOE
o Protesters & parliamentarians in Norway barred from proximity to visiting Chinese official
o Around 75% of Chinese investment in BRI countries poured into fossil fuel projects
· New reporting on the human rights crisis in Xinjiang
o New information on China’s demolition of mosques in Xinjiiang
o CNN tries to track down an ethnic Kazakh woman and her two children who disappeared into state custody in Xinjiang
o New York Times issues extensive podcast on the Chinese surveillance state
· Debunking the “friendship” rhetoric of Belt&Road
Three recent examples of Chinese money negatively influencing values abroad
With UWC’s approval, the Li Po Chun Belt and Road Centre has received HK$50 million from a Hong Kong tycoon closely allied with the Chinese Communist Party. A condition of the donation was that the centre be named Belt & Road, after the Party’s premiere foreign policy initiative. LPC accepted, and UWC approved, the funding without due diligence or any kind of thorough investigation into how this might affect LPC’s, and therefore also UWC’s, institutional independence or academic freedom, let alone key values of UWC found its mission statement, namely “peace” and a “sustainable future”.
There is abundant evidence of funding from the Chinese state, its allies and closely related business and finance entities to foreign recipients negatively affecting a wide array of values abroad, such as environmental sustainability, human rights, and basic freedoms. Just in the past week, several examples of this have cropped up.
In New York City, the human rights organization Amnesty International was denied a rental contract for office space in a building owned by Cosco Shopping. Cosco is a Chinese state-owned enterprise. When Amnesty was informed of the decision by an intermediary, it was told that it was “not the best tenant”.
In Oslo, Norway, when the president of China’s National People’s Congress visited the parliament, an astroturf China-Norway “friendship” organization was granted exclusive use of the space in front of the parliament where the Chinese official and his delegation were to enter, while human rights, Tibet and Uighur organizations were forced to use a space well out of sight of the front of the parliament, apparently to shield the Chinese dignitary from encountering them. When two parliamentarians stood on the parliament balcony near the entrance wearing t-shirts with the Chinese word for “freedom” on it, security officials accompanying the Chinese official blocked them from getting near him, and they were not allowed to wear the t-shirts inside of the parliament building. There is a long back story behind this. Norway used to be one of the champions of human rights worldwide among states. Then in 2010, after the Norwegian Nobel Committee, an independent organization, awarded Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, China punished Norway by cutting off all diplomatic content. Eventually, pressured by its business community, the Norwegian government made an agreement with China, often referred to as the “fish for freedom” deal, that many regarded as a capitulation. Since then, it has not pressured China on human rights, and in fact, as the recent example shows, it has gone out of its way to avoid doing so, to the point of even silencing Norwegian groups and parliamentarians who wish to protest. When the Dalai Lama, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize, much to China’s dismay, last visited Norway in 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the award of the prize, members of the Norwegian government refused to meet him and he was not allowed to enter the parliament building through the front door to meet with Norwegian parliamentarians. When Liu Xiaobo died in 2017, the Norwegian Prime Minister refused to even utter his name, even when persistently pressed by the media to make a statement about the death. (Sorry: Links in Norwegian only.)
A new study has found that about 75 percent of investment in Belt& Road Initiative countries by Chinese state-owned banks has gone to fossil fuel projects, and a large percentage of that to the dirtiest of fossil fuels, coal. It’s already been reported in this digest that China is building and financing dozens of coal-fired power stations abroad that together have higher emissions of greenhouse gases than the country of Spain. Virtually all information on BRI indicate that it is not environmentally friendly, yet even organizations like UWC and LPC, which have in their mission statements the promotion of a “sustainable future”, are eager to link themselves to BRI, apparently not so much because they really buy into the values behind it but because they benefit financially.
New reporting on the human rights crisis in Xinjiang
A study analyzing satellite images of mosques in Xinjiang revealed new evidence of China’s mission to destroy them. “Out of 91 sites analysed, 31 mosques and two major shrines, including the Imam Asim complex and another site, suffered significant structural damage between 2016 and 2018. Of those, 15 mosques and both shrines appear to have been completely or almost completely razed. The rest of the damaged mosques had gatehouses, domes, and minarets removed.”
“Campaigners and researchers believe authorities have bulldozed hundreds, possibly thousands of mosques as part of the campaign. But a lack of records of these sites — many are small village mosques and shrines — difficulties police give journalists and researchers traveling independently in Xinjiang, and widespread surveillance of residents have made it difficult to confirm reports of their destruction.
“The locations found by the Guardian and Bellingcat corroborate previous reports as well as signal a new escalation in the current security clampdown: the razing of shrines. While closed years ago, major shrines have not been previously reported as demolished. Researchers say the destruction of shrines that were once sites of mass pilgrimages, a key practice for Uighur Muslims, represent a new form of assault on their culture.”
As previously reported, another example of the negative influence abroad of Chinese investments is that, with the exception of Turkey, Muslim-majority states have refrained from criticizing China over its systematic crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, other organizations, like Li Po Chun, with the approval of UWC, have attached themselves to Belt&Road under the supposed aegis of “cultural exchange” at a time when China is engaging in cultural destruction. Unsurprisingly, UWC has had nothing to say about this, apart from issuing a statement essentially saying it had nothing to do with it and nothing to say about it. In such a situation, engaging in “cultural exchange” under the Belt&Road name, risks becoming a kind of whitewashing of China’s destruction of culture, as represented here by the mosques of Xinjiang. Surely, UWC as an educational institution that supposedly promotes global responsibility should be teaching students to speak out about such abuses; instead it itself remains silent and pretends it has nothing to do with it.
CNN went to Kazakhstan to interview a family with members missing in Xinjiang. A woman and her two children returned to Xinjiang to visit her parents and disappeared. The woman was taken into state custody and the children given to distant relatives. Remarkably, CNN then goes to Xinjiang and tries to track down the three missing people. This becomes a story of the multitude of ways in which China obstructs reporting there.
Wired also had an excellent report on Xinjiang, “Inside China’s Massive Surveillance Operation”.
And the New York Times issued a two-part podcast called “The Chinese Surveillance State”, Part 1 and Part 2, an excellent summary of what China has pioneered in Xinjiang and is exporting both to elsewhere in China and abroad.
In the exact same period that LPC, with UWC approval, decided to take HK$50 million from a Hong Kong tycoon allied with the Chinese Communist Party to start a Belt&Road centre in the name of “cultural exchange”, China massively stepped up its systematic crackdown and internment of Muslims in Xinjiang. LPC and UWC cannot pretend they didn’t know or that it has nothing to do with them.
Debunking the “friendship” rhetoric of Belt&Road
There’s been relatively little written about the rhetoric of “friendship” underpinning Chinese propaganda on Belt&Road. This article, “A Road to Forgetting: Friendship and Memory in China’s Belt and Road Initiative” goes some way toward redressing that. It has mostly to do with China’s relationship with neighboring countries, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Under the guise of “friendship”, China has used its influence to ensure those smaller countries comply with its wishes regarding its crackdown in Xinjiang, even though significant numbers of Kazakhs and Kyrgyz have been caught up in the crackdown. This toxic dynamic is actually a model of how China intends Belt&Road to work, the very Belt&Road that LPC and UWC have signed on to. In this context, terms like “friendship” and “cultural exchange” sound positively Orwellian.
3 May 2019
· At 2nd annual Belt&Road Forum, countries and commentators reassess a troubled initiative
· Key critic says Belt&Road “threatens to be disastrous”
· Human rights concerns about Belt&Road
· Thousands protest against Belt&Road mega-dam in Burma
· Conclusive proof emerges of ethnic profiling for mass surveillance and detention in Xinjiang
· Chinese students at US university hound a Hong Kong “traitor”
· Updates on Malaysia Belt&Road projects and Volkwagen in Xinjiang
At 2nd annual Belt&Road Forum, countries and commentators reassess a troubled Initiative
Given that the second annual Belt&Road Forum in Beijing was China’s biggest diplomatic event of the year, you’d think some news would have come out of it, but what was most striking was how little, if any, significant news emerged. This is because it was essentially scripted from the Communist Party propaganda playbook, and its primary purpose was to showcase Xi Jinping as the Great Leader. Even that went wrong: So few reporters turned out for his press conference (where, of course, he didn’t take questions) that apparatchiks had to rustle up more journalists to fill up the room. Once they were assembled, they had the cameras trained on them, with at least five camera crews from Chinese state media focusing on capturing just what “huge interest” there was among the international media in the Great Leader’s wise words.
And what were those wise words? Essentially a rehash of his Davos speech two years ago that left global elites gaga (he was portrayed as the world’s great hope, the anti-Trump, conveniently forgetting that he’s the dictator in the world’s biggest dictatorship): That the global economy should remain open. He also made statements specific to Belt&Road: “He spoke about a commitment to zero corruption. He promised to make the environment a central concern for any infrastructure projects included in his globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative. He even adopted a term used by archrival Japan to denigrate Chinese projects, vowing that Chinese companies would build only ‘quality’ infrastructure.”
The Communist Party is one of the most secretive, opaque organizations in the world, and it is transferring its modus operandi to B&R projects. Given its track record, there’s no reason to expect this will change. And as for an open global economy, China has the most protectionist market of any major economy in the world, by far. This will not change either. So Xi Jinping’s speech was a hatful of false promises, but given he went to Davos two years ago and posed as the global leader in free markets after Trump came to power, and elites around the world swallowed that rhetoric, one shouldn’t be surprised that he was tempted to try the same trick again.
The fact of the matter is, Belt&Road is wobbling, not only because of the well-known issues regarding debt, corruption, lack of transparency, environmental destruction, and the disproportionate benefit to Chinese companies of B&R projects, but also because the Communist Party can’t afford it: It “has realized it cannot finance its attempt at hegemony with its own cash,” and it’s begun to look for international capital to save it. Here’s a strong argument for why international capital shouldn’t participate in this rescue operation: “The World Shouldn’t Save the Belt & Road”.
And here’s an article, coming from a pro-Communist Hong Kong paper no less, about how Belt&Road isn’t just some big global infrastructure initiative but how China “aims to reshape the international economic order” not only through B&R but also “through international institutions, particularly the AIIB, to support China’s leading role in infrastructure finance, and domestic ones, like the China International Commercial Court, to become a centre for dispute settlement.”
It’s astounding that UWC through the Li Po Chun Belt&Road centre has signed on to this project, not only because it damages impartiality in endorsing a particular vision of the world order, but also because that vision is so illiberal and inimical to basic UWC values.
Key critic says Belt&Road “threatens to be disastrous”
Probably one of the best recent commentaries on Belt&Road comes from Isabel Hilton, a veteran China watcher specializing on environmental issues in China. I’ve featured her work here once before, in January: “How China’s Big Overseas Initiative Threatens Climate Progress”. She’s the one who’s pointed out how environmentally destructive Belt&Road is, since it’s building dozens of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants all over the world, which will produce more than the total emissions of all of Spain. I’ll just excerpt some of the best comments from her recent piece below, since she says it better than I could:
B&R is “a project designed to favour Chinese interests at the expense of partners, competitors and sustainability”. Its chief defects include “its lack of transparency, its poor risk assessment, its creation of unsustainable debt in partner countries and the fact that the benefits overwhelmingly accrue to Chinese operators. To that list, we might add an even more serious charge: the projects that Chinese banks and state-owned enterprises have been building, in particular a series of new coal fired power stations in third countries, threaten global efforts to combat climate change, which China is pledged to support.” China’s “strategic purpose is to achieve a degree of economic dominance and political leverage that will allow it to remake the global rules in its favour. As one Japanese ambassador put it, ‘…when China says win-win it means China wins twice.’” (Li Po Chun originally quoted China’s B&R “win-win” slogan in championing its Belt&Road centre before realizing that doing so ran counter to its claim that the centre was “politically impartial”.)
“China hopes to create new markets for its debt burdened economy to avoid politically dangerous stagnation. China’s second objective is to bind partner countries into a Chinese dominated sphere of influence, in which Chinese technological, economic and social standards prevail, and finally to keep some of China’s large but inefficient state-owned enterprises alive by exporting surplus capacity in steel, cement, dam building — and, most problematically, coal.”
“It is reasonable to interrogate what China’s ‘shared future for humanity’ means. If China, for example, sought to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals, if China’s lenders and state-owned enterprises observed international standards of risk assessment, rather than transferring the risk to partners or Chinese savers, criticism might be more muted. But the Communist Party’s renewed authoritarianism and its determination to maintain exclusive power at home, is forcing it to try to create a global environment in which its domestic repression will escape scrutiny, and the most damaging elements of its economic model — including corruption and climate risk — are replicated overseas. The Party enforces ever-increasing levels of censorship both of the press and of history, and given that citizens now travel, do business and study abroad, it must also try to control international perspectives to create, in the words of one international critic, a world safe for authoritarianism.”
Human rights concerns about Belt&Road
While China’s systematic and grave human rights abuses in Xinjiang have been detailed at length in this digest as well as the relationship between those and Belt&Road, there are also many human rights concerns in regard to Belt&Road projects in their own right. In the lead-up to the second annual B&R forum, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on China to commit to transparency and public consultation:
“Under the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government should set out requirements to enable meaningful consultation with groups of people potentially affected by proposed projects. It should also ensure that affected communities can openly express their views without fear of reprisal.”
“Beijing claims it is committed to working with other countries to foster environment-friendly and sound development, but the practice so far has raised some serious concerns. Criticisms of some Belt and Road projects — such as lack of transparency, disregard of community concerns, and threats of environmental degradation — suggest a superficial commitment.”
Thousands protest against China-backed mega-dam in Burma
As if to reiterate HRW’s point, days before the start of the B&R forum, thousands protested in Burma against the Myitsone mega-dam, a B&R project. The project actually precedes B&R, with Burma’s military junta signing an agreement with the Communist Party back in 2009. Then the project was put on hold by the incoming civilian regime, and people thought it was dead and buried because Aung San Suu Kyi was opposed to it, but she’s apparently changed her mind, and China’s putting major pressure on her to revive the project. On the Ayeyarwaddy River, the dam “would flood an area the size of Singapore, displacing tens of thousands.” “An environmental assessment commissioned by the Myanmar government five years ago strongly advised against the dam’s construction, saying the move could alter the river flow on a wide scale.” Thirty-four million people, roughly two-thirds of the country’s population, live in the Ayeyarwaddy basin, and the project’s stoked widespread anti-China sentiment across Burma.
Maybe UWC and LPC can just go to Burma and explain to the Burmese that B&R is “win-win” and the dam should be built in the name of “cultural exchange”. According to UWC’s kitsch global vision, as long as we hold hands and sing “we are the world”, there is no problem we can’t overcome. If we just close our eyes and take money from dictators, we are “engaging” and this will certainly bring about “peace” and a “sustainable future”.
Conclusive proof emerges of ethnic profiling for mass surveillance and detention in Xinjiang
Meanwhile global awareness is growing of the relationship between China’s crackdown in Xinjiang and the Belt&Road Initiative (see “China’s Xinjiang crackdown on its Muslim minority is at the heart of its Belt & Road project”), and a major report just came out this week providing conclusive proof that China is conducting mass, systematic ethnic profiling of Muslims in Xinjiang for purposes of surveillance and detention in concentration camps. There was already plentiful evidence to support that view, but it’s now incontrovertible: Human Rights Watch reverse engineered an app central to China’s Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to show exactly how Xinjiang authorities monitor Uighurs and other Muslims throughout the region, targeting 36 types of people for data collection, including those who’ve stopped using smart phones, who fail to “socialize with neighbors,” and who “collected money or materials for mosques with enthusiasm.” Fifty-one internet tools are considered suspicious, many of which are blocked in China. Overall, this is a massive human rights abuse, essentially criminalizing entirely legal behavior even under the tight restrictions imposed in Xinjiang.
Not only that, but China is exporting its vision of the surveillance state to the rest of the world, as this report from The New York Times shows, focusing on the case of Ecuador, which has a Chinese-made surveillance system used by Ecuador’s domestic intelligence agency. The report is accompanied by a twelve-minute video, “Chinese Cameras Come with Chinese Tactics” and an article explaining how NYT found out the intelligence agency had access to surveillance footage in spite of its statements to the contrary, “In a Secret Bunker in the Andes, a Wall that Was Really a Window”. “Today, 18 countries — including Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and Germany — are using Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems, and 36 have received training in topics like ‘public opinion guidance,’ which is typically a euphemism for censorship, according to an October report from Freedom House.”
Chinese students at US university hound a Hong Kong “traitor”
A couple of weeks back, a Hong Kong student at Emerson College in Boston wrote a seemingly innocuous column in the student newspaper about how she identifies as a Hong Kong person, not as Chinese. In response, Chinese students attacked her, essentially for betraying the motherland and suggesting she wasn’t Chinese. Three Chinese students did write a respectful letter to the paper to protest, but besides that, the Hong Kong student was hounded by other Chinese students to the point where she said she no longer felt safe, whether on campus or off, and the college administration had to intervene to protect her. This case is not dissimilar to other recent ones, flagged in past newsletters in this digest, of Chinese students attacking Tibetan and Uighur students at Canadian universities for not toeing the Party line. All of the universities concerned have substantial enrollments of Chinese students and apparently depend on them to a significant extent for revenue. The dynamic raises the issue of the impact of aggressive Chinese nationalism on academic freedom abroad. In 2017, more than 363,000 were enrolled in U.S. universities, ore than a third of all international students. Here is a 2017 discussion on ChinaFile from 2017, “Can Free Speech on American Campuses Withstand Chinese Nationalism?”
Given that UWC is apparently fine with accepting funding either directly from dictators (in UAE) or from their allies (in Hong Kong), the issue of academic freedom should be of great concern.
Updates on previously reported items:
Malaysia Belt&Road deals
As previously reported, Malaysia renegotiated an express rail line with China. Later it was also reported that it renegotiated another big B&R project called Bandar Malaysia. It appears that China pressured Malaysia to do so, threatening that if it did not, it would negatively affect China’s palm oil imports from Malaysia. The European Union, a major palm oil importer, had recently made changes in its regulations leading to a decrease in imports from Malaysia, and the latter was desperate to bolster this key sector of its economy.
Volkswagen in Xinjiang
After the CEO of Volkswagen told BBC he knew nothing about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, where Volkswagen has a factory, “A spokesman for Volkswagen backtracked in a statement… saying that the company ‘is aware’ of the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and has taken active steps to address the situation. Those efforts, the spokesman said, have been credited as positive examples by members of the Uighur community and German politicians…’For the whole Volkswagen Group, respecting human rights is one of the fundamental basic principles for all business relationships,’ a statement read.” Volkswagen did not explain which “active steps” it’s taken, and it provided no evidence that the Uighur or German politicians have praised it for these mysterious steps.
19 April 2019
· Conclusive evidence emerges that China is using A.I. to racially profile Uighurs
· Volkwagen chief executive denies knowledge of concentration camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang, where Volkswagen has a factory
· Pakistan prime minister claims he doesn’t know about the oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang
· Muslim women describe torture at the hands of Chinese authorities in concentration camps in Xinjiang
· Malaysia announces renegotiated Belt&Road deal with China
· Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike in UAE prison
· · 2,325 civilian deaths reported in 2018 in the city of Hodeidah, Yemen, besieged by UAE and its proxies
Conclusive evidence emerges that China is using A.I. to racially profile Uighurs
Chinese companies have built algorithms specifically designed for the Chinese government to track Uighurs. “It is the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling…. The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. The practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.”
Jonathan Frankle, an A.I. researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says, “I don’t think it’s overblown to treat this as an existential threat to democracy…. Once a country adopts a model in this heavy authoritarian mode, it’s using data to enforce thought and rules in a much more deep-seated fashion than might have been achievable 70 years ago in the Soviet Union. To that extent, this is an urgent crisis we are slowly sleepwalking our way into.”
This is a government that UWC and LPC are associated with through LPC’s Belt&Road centre. It is carrying out mass and systematic repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, a Belt&Road heartland. And yet UWC and LPC insist on continuing their “engagement” with the regime in the name of promoting “cultural exchange”. This is dishonest, immoral and runs counter UWC’s mission.
Volkwagen chief executive denies knowledge of concentration camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang, where Volkswagen has a factory
In an interview, BBC discussed Volkwagen’s factory in Xinjiang with Volkswagen Chief Executive Herbert Diess. BBC asked, “Xinjiang is not something you’re not proud to be associated with in terms of what the Chinese government is doing to Uighur people?”
He replied, “I can’t judge this, sorry.”
BBC pressed: “You can’t judge it. But you know about it?”
“I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
“You don’t know about China’s ‘re-education camps’ for a million Uighur people… You don’t know about that?”
Diess answered, “I’m not aware of that.”
Diess looked uncomfortable if not guilty. It would be almost impossible for the leader of an international company to know nothing of the major political and social developments in a place where it has a major factory.
Diess’ professed ignorance is even more chilling when one considers Volkswagen’s use of slave labor under the Nazis, especially given that comparisons have been made between the concentration camps in Xinjiang and those of Nazi Germany prior to the implementation of the Final Solution.
Diess’ statement represents the cynicism of international companies doing business in China: As long as there is money to be made, who cares what’s going on. It is not dissimilar from UWC and LPC disavowing any relationship with what is happening in Xinjiang while at the same time taking money from a funder associated with the Communist Party under the condition that LPC name its centre Belt&Road.
Pakistan prime minister claims he doesn’t know about the oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang
Volkswagen’s CEO isn’t the only global leader to claim ignorance of the concentration camps in Xinjiang. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is a known defender of Muslims world wide, criticizing Islamophobia in many parts of the world and speaking out on behalf of the oppressed Rohingya in Burma. But about the situation in Xinjiang, he said, “Frankly, I don’t know much about that.” What’s the difference? Pakistan is big Belt&Road partner with China. “Engagement” comes with a price.
Muslim women describe torture at the hands of Chinese authorities in concentration camps in Xinjiang
Torture in China’s concentration camps in Xinjiang has been described as systematic. This past week, a report emerged focusing specifically on the torture of women in the camps. As past reports, it was mostly based on testimonies from those who had managed to escape to neighboring Kazakhstan. The women report having been kicked repeatedly in the stomach, having mouths taped shut and limbs chained, forced to scrub their bodies with chili peppers, sexual assault, gang rape, prevented from going to the bathroom or washing, and having been force-fed unmarked pills and given unknown injections. Some report having continuing sexual health problems they believe are related to their torture.
Malaysia announces renegotiated Belt&Road deal with China
After Malaysia’s previous corrupt one-party regime was ousted in the freest elections ever held in the country, the new prime minister almost immediately disavowed the Belt&Road deals that regime had signed with China as corrupt, way too expensive, and disadvantageous to Malaysia. Then he discovered that cancelling the deals would incur huge penalties. In particular, the “Malaysian government would have had to pay ‘termination costs’ of RM21.8bn ($5.3bn) if it had cancelled a controversial Chinese rail project.” In renegotiating the deal, Malaysia was at least able to reduce the cost of “the East Coast Rail Link by one-third, from RM66.7bn to RM44bn.” The five-page statement the Malaysian government released to explain the renegotiated deal offered “a rare and detailed window” into a major Belt&Road project. Bi-lateral Belt&Road agreements are usually shrouded in secrecy, even from the citizens of the countries affected, making it especially difficult for them to hold their governments accountable, assess the terms of the agreement, and prevent corruption.
In news of UWC’s other favorite dictatorship….
Ahmed Mansoor on hunger strike in UAE prison
Before he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison, basically for criticizing the regime, Ahmed Mansoor was the last human rights defender working openly in United Arab Emirates. This in itself is a damning comment on the lack of freedom in the country. Now it is reported that Mansoor has been on hunger strike since some time in mid-March and is in poor health.
UWC has worked closely with the government of a UAE emir to start a UWC in UAE. This involves the emir providing the capital investment and members of the emir’s family playing leading roles in the college’s governance. While other UWCs receive substantial funding from Canadian, Italian and Nordic governments, this has never involved those governments playing such a direct role in UWC governance. That alone would be a first, and then on top of it, UAE is a dictatorship with a horrible human rights record. Working with the government there to start a UWC makes UWC complicit and obliges UWC to speak out on human rights abuses such as the imprisonment of Ahmed Mansoor. Luckily, all you have to do is join a new campaign jointly organized by 14 international human rights groups calling for Mansoor’s release.
2,325 civilian deaths reported in 2018 in the city of Hodeidah, Yemen, besieged by UAE and its proxies
That number of fatalities, reported by Norwegian Refugee Council, is the highest of any area in Yemen. Most of them occurred in the latter half of 2018, when fighting was at its fiercest. An unsteady ceasefire is currently in place. Hodeidah is a port city in the south of the country, where UAE and its proxy militias are most active, so a large number of the civilian deaths there can be attributed to their involvement.
UWC is going into business with a government at war. This in itself would seem to run counter to UWC’s mission statement on peace. On top of that, UAE invaded another country and is deeply implicated in Yemen’s on-going humanitarian crisis. UWC’s behavior tends to track that of global elites. This is probably due to the composition of its executive and board and probably explains its willingness to take money from a Communist Party-allied tycoon to name a centre after the Party’s premier foreign policy initiative (because “everyone does business with China”). In the case of UAE, Western governments of countries with big arms industries have massively supported Saudi Arabia and UAE’s invasion of Yemen with arms. So, from the point of view of UWC, what’s the problem going into business with a government that systematically deprives its own citizens of human rights at home and invades another country, creating a humanitarian crisis? After all, everyone’s doing it.
12 April 2019
· UWC-USA announces new MAGA centre
· Correlation between Belt&Road countries and failure to speak out over concentration camps in Xinjiang
· Maldives becomes second country to become more democratic and roll back previous authoritarian, corrupt regime’s Belt&Road agreements
· Indiana University closes Confucius Institute
· Parents remove daughter from Confucius Institute lessons in News Brunswick, Canada
· Another case of Chinese money causing a foreign academic institution to censor itself
· Academic decries inaction of educational institutions over genocide in Xinjiang
· New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern publicly silent during China visit about the Uighurs after receiving worldwide praise for her solidarity with Muslims in NZ
· Australia beginning to wake up to China as a national security threat
· “The period of European naïveté is over” but EU-China summit yields few changes
· Umbrella Movement 9, including two professors and two students, found guilty in Hong Kong
UWC-USA announces new MAGA centre
UWC-USA announced a new Make America Great Again center thanks to a generation donation of $50 million from the Koch brothers. UWC-USA said the donation would allow it to expand opportunities for cultural exchange.
Do-nothing cry-baby critics immediately pounced and accused UWC-USA damaging its independence, integrity and political impartiality.
UWC-USA insisted in response that the Make America Great Again center would remain entirely politically impartial. It had nothing to say to the charge that the very act of naming the centre MAGA was politically partial.
When challenged as to whether or not UWC had any guidelines regarding funding to ensure political impartiality, UWC was initially silent but then after some prodding responded with, “See-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil,” and, “You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” When asked to explain its attire, UWC said it was wearing its special “engagement” fig leaf.
Apologies to UWC-USA for using it to satirize UWC and LPC’s poor decision to accept funding from a tycoon allied with the Communist Party and to accede to the tycoon’s requirement that the centre be named after the Communist Party’s premiere foreign policy objective. In fact, UWC-USA is, with its Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict, probably doing more than most UWCs when it comes to their supposed peace mission.
The idea came to me when a UWC leader accused me of being like Trump in my insistence that UWC shouldn’t go into business with dictators. The UWC leader apparently regarded my criticism of LPC’s Belt&Road centre as tantamount to protectionism and opposition to globalization, as if objection to a particular form of association meant objection to all. The UWC leader said UWC would continue to “engage”. The UWC leader’s accusation was to me at first very puzzling, given that I’ve spent my whole life “engaging” with people from around the world while holding a firm line against “engaging” with dictators, but then after thinking about it, it really made me question the UWC leader’s understanding of the world. In fact, in its willingness to “engage” with dictators in Hong Kong and UAE, UWC is the one that is closer to Trump, who has quite a track record of cuddling up to dictators of different stripes, whether Xi Jinping or Putin.
As you may know, Xi Jinping has his own version of MAGA. It’s called The China Dream. The gist of it is to “Make China Great Again”, MACA. A key component of MACA is, you guessed it, the Belt & Road Initiative, the idea being to project Chinese influence abroad. This is the project UWC and LPC have signed on to with the Belt & Road centre. I believe UWC and LPC have largely done so out of geopolitical ignorance, but there may be a certain amount of cynical desperation for funding involved as well.
If the headline initially made you gasp, then you should consider the effect LPC’s Belt&Road centre is having in my part of the world. The bien pensant classes shiver at the thought of Trump, but until quite recently it was regarded as entirely kosher to “engage” with dictators like those of China. UWC usually tries to track pretty closely to the thinking of the elite political classes of the world, but it appears it’s about to get caught flat-footed with the Belt&Road centre, with even the sluggish European Union beginning to reconsider its “engagement” with China.
Correlation between Belt&Road countries and failure to speak out over concentration camps in Xinjiang
Lately, greater attention has been given to the relationship between Belt&Road and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
A key element of the crackdown on Uighurs has been suppression of any forms of religious expression and identity, and a key element of that has been mosque demolitions. Recently, satellite images showed that a prominent mosque has been demolished.
Rachel Harris, an academic expert on Uighur culture, commented on this, saying, “Muslim countries, many of which are deeply indebted to China through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), have failed to condemn or have actively supported what China is doing in Xinjiang. But the track record of western governments is not much better, as we saw with Italy’s recent backing of the BRI. Companies, institutions and national governments that pay lip service to human rights need to be held to account for their actions if they choose to engage with the products, technologies and policy initiatives that enable what is going on in Xinjiang. We owe it to the courageous people who are speaking out in the face of direct harassment by China’s security forces to keep this situation firmly on the international agenda.”
It is indeed very strange, even chilling, that UWC and LPC have justified the Belt & Road centre as a means to promote “cultural exchange” at the very time China has been commiting cultural genocide in Xinjiang.
Brahma Chellaney has also noted the connection between Belt&Road and the crackdown in Xinjiang:
“There has been a good deal of reporting about how China has turned Xinjiang into a laboratory for Xi’s Orwellian surveillance ambitions. Less known is how Xi’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative is being used as a catalyst for the crackdown. According to Chinese authorities, the establishment of a surveillance state is necessary to prevent unrest in the province at the heart of the BRI’s overland route.”
This New York Times article shows how China, together with its close ally and fellow dictatorship Saudi Arabia, ensured that the Organization for Islamic Cooperation went from expressing concern about the crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang in December to actually praising China for its “care” for its Muslims in March.
Maldives becomes second country to become more democratic and roll back previous authoritarian, corrupt regime’s Belt&Road agreements
The previous authoritarian regime in the Maldives committed to major Belt&Road agreements with China. When a kind of democratic revolution occurred in November, the new, more democratic government began to roll back those agreements. The former authoritarian leader has been arrested on charges of money laundering related to the Belt&Road agreements. A similar process, as detailed in previous digests, occurred in Malaysia. Sri Lanka has also tried to cut back on its Belt&Road agreements made under strongman Rajapaksa. China makes Belt&Road agreements with many authoritarian regimes without transparency or democratic oversight or the input of the people. Here we see a clear pattern of Belt&Road working hand in hand with authoritarianism and against democracy.
Indiana University closes Confucius Institute
Indiana University has become the latest major U.S. university to close its Confucius Institute. In the past year alone, more than ten U.S. universities have closed their CIs.
Parents remove daughter from Confucius Institute lessons in News Brunswick, Canada
Not only did the parents claim the lessons amounted to propaganda but they sued the government under the Canadian freedom of information act for information about its agreement with the Chinese government agency Hanban which administers Confucius Institutes. This revealed that when the local government renewed its contract in 2017, it acceded to a Chinese government demand that neither side could withdraw from the agreement without penalties. Now the New Brunswick government has said it won’t renew the agreement when it expires in 2022.
Another case of Chinese money causing a foreign academic institution to censor itself
The latest academic storm involving Chinese money having a negative influence on academic freedom involves London School of Economics. After it had an artist install an upside-down globe with Taiwan marked as a separate country, Chinese students, of which LSE has lots, protested. LSE has reportedly caved to their demand to change the demarcations, in spite of Taiwanese students asserting the map simply shows the reality that for all intents and purposes, Taiwan operates as a separate entity. LSE apparently did not consult the artist before making the decision to alter the artwork, so this is an issue of not only academic but also artistic freedom. As LSE attempts to keep the issue out of the public eye, there have been conflicting reports on its stance, with another article reporting that it has yet to make a decision.
Academic decries inaction of educational institutions over genocide in Xinjiang
Professor Magnus Fiskesjö of Cornell University argues that academic institutions must act in response to the crime against humanity being perpetrated by China in Xinjiang and not just go on with business as usual: “We know about Xinjiang in great detail now, thanks to scholars and journalists excavating the truth from satellite imagery, the Chinese internet and the testimonies of numerous witnesses….Yet our universities’ exchange programs with China, ‘centers’ in China, joint research projects and the like are proceeding as if there’s business as usual, and, it seems, doing so no matter how many top academics or indeed ordinary people are extralegally imprisoned and their cultures systematically demolished.” It is all the more necessary for foreign educational institutions to act given the fact that intellectual, academic and cultural figures have been singled out for targeting in Xinjiang.
UWC and LPC should take this as a challenge to re-evaluate their ties to the Chinese government through the Belt & Road centre as well as their vague, self-serving policy of “engagement”. If UWC really wishes to “engage”, it would recognize what is going on and decide how to act responsibly in reaction to it, not just bury its head in the sand and utter the empty mantra of “engagement”.
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern publicly silent during China visit about the Uighurs after receiving worldwide praise for her solidarity with Muslims in NZ
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed remarkable solidarity with Muslim victims of the horrific attack in NZ, but her sympathy for Muslim victims does not extend to those in Xinjiang, who are being oppressed in a much more widespread, systematic and on-going manner. She noted that she raised the issue privately with the Chinese government, but this “private diplomacy” has been shown to be ineffective in the case of China, and indeed, when foreign governments do not publicly raise its human rights abuses, it considers this a diplomatic success.
She’s been accused of rank hypocrisy, with this commentator noting that she had no problem public expressing her distance from Trump over his so-called “Muslim ban”.
Jacinda Ardern has also failed to defend New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady who has been the victim of repeated attacks and burglaries suspected to be linked to Chinese agents. Just this past week, it was reported in Australia that the Australian intelligence community believes China is behind the attacks, but after presented with this evidence, she refused to believe it.
Australia beginning to wake up to China as a national security threat
The hour-long television program quoted above showed “how Chinese authorities are stifling dissenting voices by targeting members of the Chinese-Australian community who fail to toe the party line.”
When you see this program, you will wonder how Australian political leaders could be so gullible and/or cynical, but then UWC and LPC need look no further than the mirror for the answer: The ease with which UWC and LPC have allowed themselves to be infiltrated and influenced is really quite breathtaking. As in the case of the Australian politicians, it appears there’s been an astounding lack of due diligence.
“The period of European naïveté is over” but EU-China summit yields few changes
Europeans are beginning to talk tough over China, as indicated by Macron’s statement above, but that’s yet to result in any substantial policy changes, as indicated by the joint statement to emerge from the most recent summit. Europeans have also become wiser to Chinese efforts to split European countries. The EU-China summit was on Tuesday, and on Thursday, the “16+1” summit was to occur in Croatia. “16+1” is a Chinese-initiated concoction, with the 1 being China and the 16 being Eastern and Central European states, including 11 EU members. Belt & Road is one of the vehicles China is using to pry European countries apart from each other and ensure they cannot take a common stance on China, as seen in the BRI MoU China and Italy recently signed. The EU has been just about the last to wake up to economic and political threats posed by China. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to effectively counter them.
Umbrella Movement 9, including two professors and two students, found guilty in Hong Kong
You may have heard that the verdict in a very important trial in Hong Kong was pronounced this week. The Umbrella Movement 9 are nine leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The nine were all convicted of various “public nuisance” offenses, are due to be sentenced on 24 April, and could receive long prison terms. This trial has had a big impact on Hong Kong because these people were seen as representing the more than one million people who protested; in effect, Hong Kong people were on trial.
The reason I mention this here is that in starting a Belt & Road centre and allying itself with the Chinese government which is withholding from Hong Kong the universal suffrage promised in the Hong Kong Basic Law and stipulated by international human rights law, LPC is clearly taking sides, and it is a side that leaves it alienated from Hong Kong people. You may know that LPC has a reputation in Hong Kong as a good academic school worth getting into if you want to study abroad, no more and no less. No one in Hong Kong knows anything about anything more UWCish that LPC may do. That in itself should be a negative comment on LPC’s impact in the community. LPC’s Belt & Road centre will do nothing to improve its reputation; in fact, just the opposite.
Two of the nine convicted are professors and two others were students at the time of the Umbrella Movement. This should be all the more reason for UWC and LPC to show some solidarity instead of aligning themselves with their oppressors.
April 5, 2019
· How China turned a city into a prison
· Kyrgyz students vanish into apparent detention in Xinjiang
· China warned ambassadors from other countries not to attend UN side event on oppression of Uighurs
· China intent on exporting its surveillance technology to Belt & Road countries
· UK parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee warns against greater involvement in Belt & Road
· Divided US Congress votes to defund Saudi/UAE war in Yemen
This is about Kashgar, in the far west of Xinjiang, near the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan. It was considered one of Xinjiang’s most traditional cities until China started bulldozing much of it and reshaping it into a place it could more easily control. This New York Times multi-media presentation shows the myriad measures the Chinese government has been taking in order to gain a tighter grip over Uighurs. It is chilling. Even outside the concentration camps, where hundreds of thousands have been interned, “Uighurs live in a virtual cage. China has built a vast network of controls that shows the Communist Party’s vision of automated authoritarianism.” Given that Kashgar is the paramount crossroads city between cultures, it is a place that should be of concern to UWC because of the latter’s association with the Belt & Road project and justification for the association that it will promote “cultural exchange”. China is not interested in “cultural exchange” in Kashgar or Xinjiang but in cultural imposition. Watching this, it is stunning to consider that UWC in any way has willingly associated itself with such a project.
Kyrgyz students vanish into apparent detention in Xinjiang
Dozens of ethnic Kyrgyz students who had been studying in universities in Kyrgyzstan have disappeared in Xinjiang, presumed detainted by Chinese authorities. Some of them are prominent figures associated with the promotion and perpetuation of traditional Kyrgyz culture, which may be the reason they were targeted. While the majority of the victims of China’s systematic crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang have been Uighurs, there have also been substantial numbers of Kazakhs and citizens and legal residents of many other countries such as Australia, the United States and Turkey. Perhaps China was inspired by LPC’s Belt & Road centre and is imitating it in its multi-national concentration camps. This is a particularly harsh form of “cultural exchange”, and indeed, generally, both in Xinjiang and in Belt & Road, China appears less interested in “cultural exchange” than in imposing its own ideology in regard to culture and difference upon others.
China warned ambassadors from other countries not to attend UN event on oppression of Uighurs
It has come to light that China formally warned diplomats from other countries not to attend or participate in a panel event in Geneva in mid-March about human rights violations in Xinjiang. The event was hosted by the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. China has a recent history of attempting to undermine and subvert UN human rights mechanisms and procedures intended to hold it accountable to international law.
China intent on exporting its surveillance technology to Belt & Road countries
Much has been written about the technology employed in the crackdown in Xinjiang to conduct surveillance on the Muslim population there. Now more is being written about China’s intention to export that surveillance technology to the rest of the world, and in particular to Muslim-majority countries in the Belt & Road Initiative. Xinjiang expert Darren Byler writes, “Controlling the Uyghurs has also become a test case for marketing Chinese technological prowess to authoritarian nations around the world…. As a spokesperson for Leon Technology, one of the major players in the new security industry, put it at the expo in 2017, 60 percent of the world’s Muslim-majority nations are part of China’s premier international development initiative, “One Belt, One Road,” so there is “unlimited market potential” for the type of population-control technology they are developing in Xinjiang…. In effect, the Uyghur homeland has become an incubator for China’s ‘terror capitalism.’” With this in mind, it is hard to see what UWC can find appealing about its association with the Belt & Road Initiative. At the very least, BRI is highly controversial. At most, it is truly a dark influence in terms of debt trap, environmental irresponsibility, negative impact on human rights and democracy, and export of authoritarian technological control. How, given this, can LPC justify a Belt & Road centre as simply a point of “cultural exchange”?
UK parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee warns against greater involvement in Belt & Road
The UK parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report called China and the Rules-Based International System which is basically about all the ways in which China is trying to disrupt and replace that system with one more amenable to its authoritarian rule. There is a section on the Belt & Road Inititiative in which it warns against greater UK involvement: “…the Belt and Road Initiative, in the form it is currently being pursued, raises concerns…. These include the risk that Chinese investment will encourage countries to strike deals that undermine international standards…or that leave countries with unsustainable debt that undermines development and political stability. There is also a risk that the promise of Chinese investment, or the coercive leverage of indebtedness to China, could encourage countries to join China’s efforts to undermine certain aspects of the rules-based international system, and could weaken the alliances and partnerships that help preserve international peace and prosperity.”
In news on UWC’s other favorite dictatorship, the US House of Representatives just passed a resolution that passed in the Senate last month to stop US military assistance to the Saudi/UAE invasion of Yemen. This is remarkable considering the Congress is divided, with Republicans retaining a majority in the Senate. It is the first time Congress has “invoked the 1973 War Powers Act to curb the executive’s power to take the country into a conflict without congressional approval.” It is widely expected to be vetoed by the president. “The war in Yemen, which has just entered its fifth year, is estimated to have killed more than 60,000 people and left millions on the brink of starvation, creating what the UN called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” There is still a danger the war could trigger “mass starvation that could kill millions.” But UWC justifies its “engagement” with the UAE dictatorship in the name of “peace”. It’s hard to see what effect UWC’s “engagement” has so far had on peace efforts in Yemen.
March 29, 2019
· As expected, Italy signs Belt&Road MoU with China
· Chinese official scolds Italian journalist: “You have to stop badmouthing China.”
· RSF reports on huge Chinese state media-backed Belt&Road propaganda campaign
· Chinese consulate officials pressure Montreal university to cancel event with Uighur activist
· Australian universities fail to register Confucius Institutes under new foreign influence transparency scheme by deadline
· Former Hong Kong official sentenced in US over bribing UN officials to support Belt&Road
· Japan to propose G20 aid rules of openness, transparency and sustainability to counter Belt&Road
As expected, Italy signs Belt&Road MoU with China
Italy became the first and only G7 country to formally endorse Belt&Road in an MoU signed with China. To a large extent, the MoU is largely symbolic and it is unclear yet what the results of it may be. After visiting Italy, Xi Jinping went to France, where he signed business and trade agreements with Macron worth more than those in Italy MoU, even though Macron has been in the forefront of European leaders calling for a tougher stance toward China. As is common with Belt&Road agreements China signs with other countries, the exact terms of the MoU remain secret.
Chinese official scolds Italian journalist: “You have to stop badmouthing China.”
This incident probably got more public attention than all the pomp and circumstance of the Belt&Road official ceremonies. An official with the Chinese Embassy in Rome told Giulia Pompili of Il Foglio, “You have to stop badmouthing China.” She laughed, thinking he was joking. He replied, “Don’t laugh. You should stop. I know very well who you are.” Pompili has indeed been one of the Italian journalists most critical of Belt & Road. There was widespread condemnation of this attempt to intimidate the press from the Italian journalists association and the political opposition. Wu Qiang, former politics lecturer at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, said the attitude of the Chinese official’s statement is fundamental to the whole Belt and Road strategy: “The aggressive and tough behavior coming out the Chinese diplomatic service is actually the result of the Belt and Road strategy proposed six years ago, calling on them to redefine the norms of international relations. It largely rewrote the code of conduct for Chinese diplomats. [They are] trying to establish an authoritarian world order that is subject to China, and which doesn’t allow any criticism or opposing voices, neither at home or internationally.” Belt&Road is an important prong of this effort to remold the world in the image of the Communist Party, a prong in which UWC and LPC are participating, through the Belt & Road centre.
RSF reports on huge Chinese state media-backed Belt&Road propaganda campaign
Reporters sans frontières / Reporters without borders published a major report on China’s attempts to control the media beyond its borders, “China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order”. The RSF Secretary General says, “In the spirit of the Beijing regime, journalists are not intended to be a counter-power but rather to serve the propaganda of states. If democracies do not resist, Beijing will impose its view and propaganda, which is a threat for journalism and democracy”. The report is wide-ranging, but has a section (p30) about the Belt&Road News Alliance: “The Chinese state media, led by news agency Xinhua, TV broadcaster CGTN and China Radio International, are working with media outlets in the [Belt&Road] partner countries to promote this hugely ambitious project internationally and, to this end, they have formed the Belt and Road News Alliance, which groups 72 media in 42 countries.” This is one of the first reports on this shadowy propaganda network. Needless to say, Belt&Road will not have a positive effect on the freedom of the press in Belt&Road countries, most of which are less than full democracies and already have many press freedom issues. Unfortunately, through the Belt&Road centre, LPC and UWC are part of China’s Belt&Road propaganda campaign.
Chinese consulate officials pressure Montreal university to cancel event with Uighur activist
The Chinese consulate in Montreal pressured Concordia University to cancel a conference in which Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uighur Congress was to participate. Not only did it contact the conference organizer directly, requesting an urgent meeting, but also pressured others at the university to bring their influence to bear to stop the event from proceeding. Fortunately, Concordia didn’t bend to the pressure and the event went ahead. This is the third such incident at Canadian universities in the last two months involving Chinese students and consular officials working to constrain academic freedom and freedom of expression. I guess LPC’s Belt&Road center won’t be inviting Dolkun Isa, or any other Uighur activists, any time soon.
Australian universities fail to register Confucius Institutes under new foreign influence transparency scheme by deadline
Australia has a new ‘foreign influence transparency scheme’ “to publicly document the lawful activities of entities that seek to exert influence in Australia on behalf of foreign powers”. By the 10 March deadline, none of the 13 Australian universities with Confucius Institutes had registered under the scheme, setting up a potential showdown between the government and the universities. Off the record, the universities claim that since CIs only engage in cultural and language activities (sounds a bit like LPC’s justification of its Belt&Road centre), they are not required to register, but many believe the scheme was intended precisely to cover entities like the CIs. Some Australian universities have registered programs funded by US government sources. It is quite clear that Confucius Institutes are intended to project an image of China that aligns with Chinese government preference, and in this sense, it is just as flimsy an argument to say they’re only cultural and linguistic as UWC and LPC’s argument that naming a centre after a government’s premiere foreign policy initiative and funded by money from a close ally of that government has nothing to do with politics.
Former Hong Kong official sentenced in US over bribing UN officials to support Belt&Road
Former Hong Kong government official Patrik Ho received a relatively lenient three-year sentence for bribing UN officials to support Belt&Road initiatives. Ho was found to have offered US$2.9 million in bribes to Chad President Idriss Déby, Senegalese diplomat Cheikh Gadio and Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa. Very remorseful at the sentencing hearing, Ho was initially defiant after his conviction, claiming he was “the first of the sacrificial lambs of such hostility [against China]”. It appears that he was so used to the kind of corruption that is part and parcel of Belt&Road in many countries that he didn’t realize that bribing UN officials in a country like the US with fairly robust rule of law might not be such a good idea. Most Belt&Road countries don’t have such robust legal systems, and Belt&Road corruption serves to further undermine the law in those places.
Japan to propose G20 aid rules of openness, transparency and sustainability to counter Belt&Road
Japan and other G20 countries will attempt to counteract what they see as negative aspects of Belt&Road aid, namely secrecy, corruption and environmental destruction, by calling for openness, transparency and sustainability to be keys for infrastructure investment abroad. It’s becoming ever clearer that Belt&Road doesn’t meet environmental standards of international agreements or even of China and countries receiving aid. It’s a travesty that UWC professes in its mission statement to work for a “sustainable future” and then signs agreements that effectively promote massive infrastructure-building projects like Belt & Road that are destructive to the environment and move in the opposite direction of what experts say is needed to create a more sustainable future. Belt&Road promotion of coal power plants alone should be enough to keep UWC far away from it.
March 22, 2019
HRW’s new Code of Conduct for educational institutions to respond to Chinese government threats to academic freedom
Human Rights Watch has come out with a new 12-point Code of Conduct for educational institutions to help educational institutions respond to the Chinese government threats to academic freedom abroad. Given that LPC has taken a large donation from a Hong Kong tycoon with a close relationship with the Communist Party in order to name an academic center after the Party’s biggest foreign policy initiative, UWC should take note. I have previously inquired whether LPC or UWC have any guidelines regarding funding and have not received an answer. I therefore suspect they do not. But given the controversial sources of funding UWCs are accepting in Hong Kong and UAE, it seems this is quite an urgent area to pay attention to. Both UWC and LPC have protested that they intend to remain “politically impartial” but the very fact that LPC’s centre is named after a government’s foreign policy initiative and is funded by a close ally of that government throws into doubt just how much awareness UWC and LPC have of what being “politically impartial” would actually mean. One point of HRW’s new Code of Conduct explicitly states that Confucius Institutes should be closed. CIs are in some respects a close corollary of LPC’s Belt&Road centre. As I’ve said before, the global trend is toward de-coupling educational institutions from entanglement with Chinese government interests at the very time UWC is doing just the opposite.
University of Minnesota becomes latest big university to close its Confucius Institute
The University of Minnesota is one of the biggest universities in the United States. It is now one of five of the so-called Big Ten universities to close their Confucius Institutes since 2014.
Further info on US universities backing away not only from CIs but also Huawei.
How the Belt and Road Initiative threatens to undermine the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
One of the most damning reports yet to emerge on the Belt&Road Intitiative has just been published. Essentially, China is attempting to use it to redefine human rights at the United nations, equating rights with “development”. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are underpinned by the international legal framework on human rights, and human rights are the basis and parameters of the UN’s sustainable development agenda. This is what China is attempting to undermine by presenting Belt&Road as a viable model of sustainable development, though it entirely lacks the human rights underpinnings of the UN SDGs. To quote the report: “The PRC’s conduct at the UN, particularly in the Human Rights Council and the UN NGO Committee, demonstrates its contempt for civil and political rights, civil society, NGOs, and human rights defenders at the international level. The Chinese Party-state’s human rights record domestically is abysmal and getting worse.6 As an extension of the totalitarian Party-state, the BRI cannot seriously be considered a vehicle for enabling human rights progress and civic space around the globe.7 Rampant corruption, and lack of transparency and accountability along the Belt and Road also pose significant obstacles to the SDGs. The PRC, its BRI, and its vague vision of a ‘community with a shared future for humankind’8 threaten to undermine the realization of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and the pledge all countries undertook with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda: ‘to leave no one behind.’” Given that part of UWC’s mission has to do with promoting a “sustainable future”, UWC should consider how that can be squared with LPC’s Belt&Road center given that there is substantial evidence (as cited last week) that Belt&Road has a negative impact on the environment and is being used to undermine sustainable development efforts at the UN.
China’s pressure on Belt&Road neighbor Kazakhstan leads to crackdown on NGO documenting concentration camps in Xinjiang
As I reported last week, Kazakhstan has arrested the most prominent advocate for victims of China’s concentration camps for Muslims in Xinjiang. If you would like an in-depth and close-up analysis of the dynamics behind this case, here is a report from a foreign human rights worker who has been living in Kazakhstan for a while and knows all the players involved. It is a clear case of pressure brought to bear by China through its Belt&Road Initiative leading to a deteriorating human rights situation in a Belt&Road country and the silencing of voices abroad critical of China’s human rights record in Xinjiang.
China tries to insert clause on Belt&Road into UN Security Council resolution on peace in Afghanistan
The United States objected, saying Belt&Road had nothing to do with the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, citing its “tenuous ties to Afghanistan and known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and lack of transparency… China held the resolution hostage and insisted on making it about Chinese national political priorities rather than the people of Afghanistan.” An emergency resolution that all fifteen SC countries were dissatisfied with passed instead, but lasts only through September 2019. It’s a sign of greater push-back on China’s promotion of Belt&Road anywhere and everywhere.
Will Belt&Road die quietly?
Veteran China watcher Minxin Pei says there’s been a shift in the Chinese government’s attitude toward Belt&Road since its initial hype and due to a variety of factors, it may start to play down Belt&Road and invest less lavishly in it. Not least of all because the news for Belt&Road as been so “unrelentingly bad”: “What appears to be happening in Beijing is that while its leaders continue to stand by BRI, Xi’s original ambitions are being rolled back out of public view. We should not be surprised if Beijing eventually lets BRI, at least BRI 1.0, die quietly.” There is an international Belt&Road forum in Beijing at the end of April that will be China’s biggest foreign policy event of the year and should give some indication of China’s future intentions regarding Belt&Road.
More on China’s toned-down approach possibly signaling a shift in policy.
WSJ documents razing of Uighur neighborhoods in Urumqi, Xinjiang
Wall Street Journal returned to Urumqi after one year and found a city transformed: Many Uighur neighborhoods have been partially or entirely destroyed. This is part of a Chinese government campaign to reshape cities so as to more easily control Uighurs. It also has the effect of destroying their culture and society, which is why it has been condemned as a form of “cultural genocide”. Similar demolitions of entire neighborhoods have been documented in other cities in Xinjiang such as Kashgar. The eight-minutes video accompanying this report is well worth watching, and deeply depressing.
March 15, 2019
Belt&Road country #1 Kazakhstan arrests advocate for internees in China’s Xinjiang concentration camps
Much recent information about China’s concentration camps for Muslims in Xinjiang has come from former detainees who have been released and made their way to Kazakhstan. This has irked China, which has pressured Kazakhstan, a neighbor, fellow dictatorship and key Belt&Road country, to shut them up. Kazakhstan this week took a step in that direction, arresting Serikzhan Bilash, one of the most vocal advocates for ethnic Kazakhs interned in the concentration camps, and raiding the offices of Atajurt, the NGO he leads. He’s been released on bail pending trial in about two months, but he’s under house arrest, the terms of which prohibit him from engaging in advocacy, and he faces charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” which carry a sentence of up to ten years. It was in Kazakhstan in 2013 that Xi Jinping announced the Belt & Road Initiative. This is yet another sign of how economic pressure brought to bear by Belt&Road leads to worsening human rights situations in countries where BRI is present as well as how Belt&Road and the Xinjiang crackdown are related. More bad news for UWC which has committed itself to promoting Belt & Road through its LPC Belt & Road centre.
More on the arrest.
Belt&Road project in Indonesia could lead to extinction of Tapanuli orangutan
Environmental activists in 12 countries protested against state-owned Bank of China funding for the Belt&Road Batang Toru dam in northern Sumatra. If built, scientists say it will doom the Tapanuli orangutan and impoverish downstream communities. The Batang Toru Dam bears the uncomfortable distinction as not only the first project under the Belt&Road Initiative to potentially trigger the collapse of an entire species, but also the first to spark a global wave of protests against a Chinese bank.
Massive Belt & Road investment in coal could “tip the world into catastrophic climate change”
One aspect I have not emphasized nearly enough in these weekly missives is the environmental destruction wrought by Belt&Road projects. UWC’s association with Belt & Road through the LPC Belt & Road centre clearly does not fit with UWC’s mission of “making education a force… for a sustainable future”. As part of Belt&Road, China is financing at least 63 coal power plants around the world, which collectively pollute more than Spain. China’s investment in coal as part of Belt&Road is even bigger than that figure indicates: “China is developing some 240 coal projects with a total generating capacity of 251 gigawatts in 25 countries that include developments in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, and is also funding new coal capacity in Egypt, Tanzania, and Zambia.” China environment expert Isabel Hilton says Belt&Road could “tip the world into catastrophic climate change.”
Formerly enthusiastic participant Pakistan the latest to sour on Belt&Road
Malaysia’s change of mind and Sri Lanka’s travails regarding Belt & Road have been widely reported. Less well known is Pakistan souring on its Belt & Road projects. Up to now, China has regarded Pakistan as one of its Belt & Road successes. One of the many problems with Belt&Road is that the terms of the agreements between China and other countries are almost always secret. This lack of transparency means the citizens of the countries in question cannot see the details of the agreements or hold their governments accountable. It has recently emerged just how deep of a debt trap Pakistan is falling into, with it having to pay China $40 billion over 20 years for $26.5 billion in Chinese funding of projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a jewel in the Belt&Road crown. A leaked plan for CPEC appeared to position Pakistan as an experimental ground for the export of the surveillance state China is rolling out in Xinjiang, with China proposing to install mass surveillance equipment in all major Pakistani cities.
Burma is trying to scale back a Belt&Road port project, fearing it will fall into a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s. The Center for Global Development warned that 23 of 68 countries benefiting from Belt and Road investments were “significantly or highly vulnerable to debt distress.”
Expressing greater worry over Chinese influence, EU sets out new 10-point plan to “rebalance relations”
The normally slumbering Europeans seem to finally be waking up to the economic, security and political threats posed by China. The EU has set out a new 10-point plan that it says is intended to “rebalance relations” with China. The plan will be debated at the European Council of 21 March. If actually enacted and implemented, it will constitute a significant shift in EU-China relations.
Italy set to formally endorse Belt&Road, becoming first G7 country to do so
Meanwhile, Italy is apparently dancing to its own (or China’s) tune, as it is set to sign an MoU with China that would formally endorse Belt&Road. It will be the first G7 country to do so, much to the displeasure of the EU and other allies.
Head of Xinjiang compares concentration camps to boarding schools
At the National People’s Congress in Beijing, the head of Xinjiang in a press conference compared the concentration camps in Xinjiang to boarding schools. Many commentators have noted it is unlikely that these “boarding schools” are the sorts Chinese officials would send their children to. Now that UWC has already crossed the line in endorsing a state’s foreign policy with LPC’s Belt&Road centre, perhaps the next Rubicon is to establish a “cultural exchange” with these “boarding schools”; after all, UWC seems more than willing to buy into Chinese government policy.
OIC commends China in “providing care” to its Muslim citizens
The Organization for Islamic Cooperation stooped to a new low, passing a resolution “commend[ing] the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens”. In fact, China’s mass internment of Muslims in Xinjiang is one of the most urgent human rights catastrophes in the world at the moment. In the very same resolution, OIC expressed concern about the situations of Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, so it is not afraid to criticize…except when it comes to China.
Xinjiang expert increases estimate of number of people in concentration camps from 1 million to 1.5 million
At a side event co-sponsored by Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Xinjiang expert Adrian Zenz increased his previous estimate of 1 million people in concentration camps to 1.5 million. He said, “Although it is speculative it seems appropriate to estimate that up to 1.5 million ethnic minorities — equivalent to just under 1 in 6 adult members of a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang — are or have been interned in any of these detention, internment and re-education facilities, excluding formal prisons.” He went on, “The Chinese state’s present attempt to eradicate independent and free expressions of the distinct ethnic and religious identities in Xinjiang is nothing less than a systematic campaign of cultural genocide and should be treated as such.”
And to think this is the regime whose foreign policy UWC is promoting through LPC’s Belt & Road centre. UWC should hang its head in shame: “cultural exchange” in the shadow of cultural genocide.
March 8, 2019
Invoking Belt & Road, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterates demand for access to Xinjiang
In her address to the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet repeated her call for full UN access to Xinjiang to investigate reports of human rights abuses. In doing so, she noted, “This area is at the centre of the Belt and Road Initiative, enabling land corridors to Central Asia, South Asia and Europe, and I am convinced that stability and security in this region can be facilitated by policies which demonstrate the authorities’ respect of all people’s rights.”
The UN Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom has also formally requested to visit Xinjiang. China has responded neither to his request nor that of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, while at the same time claiming that it welcomes visits. The only known visits allowed so far have been those of two groups of foreign diplomats and journalists handpicked by China.
Tensions with Belt&Road countries rise over China’s mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps
Previously, this bulletin reported that Turkey became the first majority-Muslim country to criticize China’s mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. In response, China has threatened Turkey with economic consequences if it continues to speak out. This is a clear case of China using its Belt&Road economic leverage as a weapon to silence critics and get other countries to conform to its way of seeing things.
Kazakhstan neighbors China, and it is a key site of Belt&Road projects. It’s also a dictatorship, but through its intervention, it appears to have managed to get China to release upwards of 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs from the Xinjiang concentration camps, and has praised China for its “kind gesture”. It was pressured to do this by its own people, who have been raising their voices about loved ones detained in the camps. The Kazakh government is walking a tightrope, afraid of angering China, and recently cracked down on an NGO in Almaty advocating for the release of ethnic Kazakhs from the camps. This is a sign both of the tensions created with Belt&Road countries by the oppression in Xinjiang and China’s negative impact on the human rights situation in those countries.
LPC’s Belt & Road Centre presupposes that the BRI will in some way be a force for better relations between countries, but its effects are far more mixed than that rosy and perhaps naïve view. BRI has much potential for creating and exacerbating conflict and repression, especially when China is locking up a million Muslims in concentration camps in the Belt & Road heartland. In such a context, a Belt & Road Centre that concentrates on “cultural exchange” risks acting as a propaganda tool useful to the regime as cover for and distraction from its abuses. This is why signing on to any particular country’s foreign policy agenda, as UWC has done with the Belt & Road centre, is always a matter of playing with fire, particularly because UWC has no control over that country’s actions associated with the project.
As far as “cultural exchange” goes, a recent article profiled Uighur artistic responses to their mass repression in Xinjiang. Perhaps as its first exhibition, the LPC Belt & Road centre could feature the art of Nijat Hushur, though I suspect that the centre will shy away from any type of “cultural exchange” that runs counter to the regime’s views.
Lastly, a personal story. Abdurahman fled repression in Xinjiang and ended up in Turkey. He was joined by his wife and children, but they eventually returned to Xinjiang after the birth of their third child. His wife was immediately detained and has been sentenced to ten years in prison. Their children were initially looked after by their extended family, but the whole family has now been detained. Abdurahman had no idea what had happened to his children until he recently saw a video circulating on social media of a four-year-old child spouting Chinese propaganda. He recognized his son. It is common that children of people detained in the camps end up in state-run orphanages where they are brainwashed and exposed to an upbringing far different from what their parents would have chosen for them. I imagine this kind of “education” is far different from what most people in UWC would want to see UWC, an educational institution, associated with, and yet by virtue of LPC’s Belt & Road centre, alas, it is. If you want to see the video of his son, which is somewhat disturbing, it is here.
March 1, 2019
More pushback on China’s interference in academic freedom abroad
· Toronto police open criminal investigation into Chinese students’ harassment of and threats to Tibetan student
· Over 10 US universities have closed Confucius Institutes in the past year
· US Senate report recommends closing Confucius Institutes unless major changes are made
· Yale students organize awareness-raising campaign on China’s crackdown in Xinjiang
· Al Jazeera video on China’s crackdown in Xinjiang goes viral
Last week I sent reports on two cases at Canadian universities where Chinese students intimidated and harassed Tibetans and Uighurs on campus, in apparent coordination with the Chinese Consulate. Now the Toronto police have opened a criminal investigation into the harassment and threats against Chemi Lhamo at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Amazingly, for her protection “university police have asked her to develop a safety plan… which would include letting them know where she is on campus hour by hour.”
Over ten US universities have closed Confucius Institutes within the past year, including many big and important ones. This represents about 10% of all CIs in the US.
The US Senate has released a report on China’s impact on the US education system. In particular, it criticizes Confucius Institutes for stifling discussion of topics banned in China. It calls for them to close down unless major changes are made.
In light of the widespread international concern about China’s negative impact on academic freedom at international institutions in China and abroad, UWC should also be concerned, in particular about its Belt & Road Centre at LPC as well as the UWC in China. In know that when planning for the UWC in China was in its early stages, efforts were made to draw up a plan about how a UWC in China could ensure academic freedom and freedom of expression, but to my knowledge, nothing ever came of that plan. LPC and UWC can’t just stick their heads in the sand and pretend this matter has nothing to do with them when LPC is taking money from a Communist-allied Hong Kong tycoon to build a centre named after the Communist Party’s premiere foreign policy initiative. Not only should UWC work on ensuring these basic freedoms and rights at UWCs, but it should actively promote them. I wonder when the Belt & Road Centre will hold its first symposium on the crackdown in Xinjiang, Belt & Road heartland.
Meanwhile, in positive educational news, Yale University students have taken the initiative to start a project to spread awareness of China’s crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang. The students were spurred into action after the New York Times reported, in an article I sent to you last week, that a Yale physicist had shared genetic data with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which used the data in its campaign to collect Uighur DNA. This is exactly the sort of work students at UWCs should be encouraged to undertake.
An Al Jazeera video on China’s crackdown in Xinjiang has gone viral. It’s called “Uighurs: Nowhere to Call Home”, and with AJ’s typically jazzy production values, it’s certainly worth a watch.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Organization of Islamic States to speak out against the oppression in Xinjiang. Given that OIC is dominated by dictators, most people think it unlikely the organization will do that. The Saudi dictator, allied with UWC’s other favorite dictatorship UAE in committing war crimes in Yemen, was in Beijing this week and defended “China’s right to put Uighur Muslims in concentration camps”. Dictators stick together in abusing people’s rights, all the more reason for UWC to avoid taking money from them or their allies or promoting their foreign policy objectives. Meanwhile, the situation in Xinjiang is becoming so bad that Uighurs living abroad, previously fearful that speaking out might harm their relatives detained in China, are now talking in greater numbers. I wonder if LPC or UWC has consulted with Uighur organizations to see what they think of the LPC Belt & Road centre.
February 22, 2019
LPC Belt & Road Centre officially becomes part of Communist Party policy in HK
The Chinese Communist Party revealed its Greater Bay Area development plan for Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province. A whole chapter of the plan is dedicated to its relationship to the Belt & Road Initiative. It says the the GBA will be “an important support area for the pursuit of the Belt and Road” and should “support Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao in strengthening cooperation, jointly participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, and enhance infrastructural connectivity, economic trade cooperation as well as people-to-people exchanges with related countries and regions.”
That phrase “people-to-people exchanges”, borrowed from the official Belt and Road Initiative, is one LPC initially used in justifying its Belt & Road centre and describing the centre’s relationship to the BRI. In more recent communications, LPC has dropped the reference, presumably as it’s attempted to distance itself from the perception that it is actively cooperating in the Chinese government’s foreign policy, which it is. The GBA plan shows that the Chinese government sees projects like the LPC Belt & Road centre as advancing the BRI and its interests. What will LPC do if it’s invited to the international Belt & Road conference to be held in Hong Kong in September? Will Party officials attend the Belt & Road centre opening?
Thermo Fisher announces it will stop selling DNA sequencers to Xinjiang police
Human Rights Watch started reporting in 2017 that U.S. company Thermo Fisher was selling DNA sequencers to police in Xinjiang who were collecting the DNA of Uighurs without their consent in order to create a DNA database of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Thermo Fisher, however, refused to stop. But right before a 21 February New York Times article about it, Thermo Fisher announced that it would stop selling the DNA sequencers to Xinjiang police.
The case is relevant because UWC is also a foreign organization cooperating with the Chinese state to advance Chinese state policy. Like Thermo Fisher, UWC refuses to change even after being alerted to problem. The difference is Thermo Fisher is making money from the Chinese state while UWC is taking money from Chinese state allies to advance its interests. But Thermo Fisher also shows that you can still back out. You needn’t wait until you get such bad publicity.
(Note: If you cannot access the paywalled WSJ article, you can also find it here.)
Renowned Soviet historian compares Western silence on Ukraine famine of 1930s to its silence on China’s crackdown on Uighurs today
Anne Applebaum has written extensively on the Soviet gulag and Soviet-perpetrated famine in Ukraine. In a Washington Post article, she says when she speaks, she’s often asked why the rest of the world ignored the famine. She responds that we need look no further than what’s happening now in Xinjiang. UWC is part of this problem: While the Chinese government interns upwards of one million Uighurs in concentration camps in Belt & Road heartland, UWC opens a Belt & Road centre, blithely ignoring the crisis and eschewing any responsibility.
Backed by the Chinese consulate, Chinese students at two Canadian universities harass and intimidate Tibetans and Uighurs
Tibetan refugee and Students for a Free Tibet activist Chemi Lhamo was elected student council president at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, after which she endured an harassment campaign by Chinese students that became so acute that she was given police protection. Meanwhile, Chinese students at the McMaster University in Canada conducted a similar campaign against a Uighur guest speaker on campus. In the latter case, there is clear written evidence that they were communicating with the Chinese consulate over the campaign. There have been reports of recent similar incidents in the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands and France. These are examples of how the Chinese regime actively discourages academic discussion of any issues to which it takes exception and of how it uses Chinese students to do so, even outside of China. In this kind of environment, it would be most unrealistic to expect that a Belt & Road centre at LPC would be able to maintain academic freedom, let alone the UWC in China.
Now, at least 27 universities around the world have terminated their Confucius Institutes
At a time when many foreign educational institutions are getting wise to the risks posed by cooperation with Chinese state entities and their allies, it is deplorable that LPC has entered into an agreement with them, supported by UWC. A Communist Party official has said that Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up. As the Greater Bay Area plan shows, this is how China regards projects like LPC’s Belt & Road centre.
Links between Frontier Security Group, Xinjiang and Belt & Road
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, which committed abuses in Iraq, is now leading a new group, Frontier Security Group, which is based in Hong Kong and is setting up a training center in Xinjiang, of all places. It is hoping to get contracts to provide security to Belt & Road projects. Here we can see links between abuses perpetrated against Uighurs in Xinjjiang and the BRI. There is concern that “security” methods employed in Xinjiang will be “exported” via FSG to BRI projects abroad.
This Australian Baby Boy Has Spent His Whole Life trapped in China’s Police State. Now His Dad Wants Him Out.
If you want a tearjerker story to end the week, here it is. His Uighur father is an Australian citizen. His Uighur mother is a Chinese citizen, previously detained in a concentration camp. He has belatedly been granted Australian citizenship, but there is no way of getting him out of Xinjiang, and there is a high risk his mother will be re-detained in a concentration camp and he will be sent to an orphanage, which is where China has been sending many Uighur children after detaining their parents.
February 15, 2019
Belt & Road showdown in Hong Kong court between UWC’s 2 favorite dictatorships
As LPC is set to open new Belt & Road centre, controversies over Belt & Road projects multiply. The latest: News has emerged that a UAE company linked to the emirs is suing a Chinese state-owned company in Hong Kong’s High Court over ports in Djibouti, claiming, essentially, that China stole the project from the UAE company. The Chinese company is the same one that controls the Sri Lanka port that China forced Sri Lanka to grant to China on a 99-year lease. Dirty business dealings with corrupt and dictatorial regimes has become a hallmark of Belt & Road. Djibouti’s debt to China is about 44 percent of its GDP.
Turkey becomes first Muslim-majority country to condemn China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang crackdown
Up to now, Muslim-majority countries have been either too frightened of China’s power or themselves too corrupt and dictatorial or too involved in the Belt & Road Initiative to criticize China’s internment of upwards of one million Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang. But this past weekend, Turkey became the first to do so, calling on the UN Secretary General to take action to stop the camps and other human rights abuses in the region. Here is the Turkish government’s full statement.
Turkey was prompted to finally speak out partially by unsubstantiated reports that renowned Uighur cultural figure Abdurehim Heyit died in Chinese detention in late 2017, and it mentioned him in its statement. In response, a Chinese state media organization released a video purportedly showing Abdurehim alive in February, though the video was unverified and gave no information regarding where he is being held, whether on criminal charges or in a concentration camp, or whether he has any access to legal representation or family. In response, Uighurs around the world called on China to release videos of their family members in detention, with whom they have no contact and about whom they have received no news. The campaign trended on Twitter as #MeTooUighur, and if you search that hashtag, you will find many tragic tales.
Dozens of human rights organizations around the world call on UN Human Rights Council to sanction China’s rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere
With the UN Human Rights Council’s next session to begin on 25 February, human rights organizations have called on it to take urgent action to stop China’s human rights abuses. The mass detentions in Xinjiang are one of the most acute human rights crises in the world at the moment, and one joint letter calls on the council to act to end them. Another joint letter asks the council to adopt a resolution containing several measures to combat China’s rights abuses. The chances of the council, which itself is full of systematic human rights abusers, acting on these demands are low. Meanwhile, reports continue to emerge from ex-detainees and their families about terrible conditions in the concentration camps.
The failure of “cultural exchange” in encouraging China to become more rights respecting
Given that UWC justifies taking money from rights-abusing dictators in the name of promoting “cultural exchange”, it might be interested in this article, “Beijing’s Olympics Paved the Way for Xinjiang’s Camps”, which reminds that in 2008, many proponents of the Beijing Olympics argued it would help China to change for the better. The rhetoric is very similar to the rhetoric that UWC employs to justify taking money for the Belt & Road centre and the UWC in UAE. Instead, it gave China the signal it could get away with just about anything and no one would do anything about it. Now China is preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics with a million Muslims in arbitrary detention. So much for the value of “cultural exchange”.
On UAE, UWC’s other favorite dictatorship
More news has emerged about UAE’s kidnapping of the princess Sheikha Latifa in international waters off the coast of India in March 2018. In a 39-minute video she recorded before her escape, she said about UAE, “There’s no justice here. Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”
Even the U.S., key supporter of Saudi Arabia and UAE’s war in Yemen, is finally changing its mind about what its allies are doing there. The House of Representatives voted this past week to end U.S. military assistance. The Republican-majority Senate had already passed a similar measure before the previous term of Congress expired, but it never came to a House vote. Now the Senate will vote again. If it ever gets to the president’s desk, he will most likely veto it or find a way to work around it.
February 8, 2018
Far-flung Xinjiang is critically important to President Xi Jinping’s loftiest goal: completing China’s return as one of the world’s great powers. Although it represents just 1.5 percent of China’s population and 1.3 percent of its economy, Xinjiang sits at the geographic heart of Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. It’s a trillion-dollar plan to finance new highways, ports and other modern infrastructure projects in developing countries that will connect them to China’s markets — and, skeptics say, put them in China’s debt for decades to come.
The Alaska-sized region borders eight countries and serves as a crossroads for a railway link to London and a route to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan, where China is financing a $62 billion port and transportation corridor.
“It’s one of the main tensions in the Belt and Road as a concept,” said Jonathan Hillman, a former U.S. trade official who heads the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Reconnecting Asia project. “If you want to be promoting the movement of goods and people and data, having an overwhelming security presence is at odds with that. You need to be willing to give up some control.”
Some experts say the camps and other security measures are partly in reaction to the increased freight traffic across Xinjiang, much of which now comes through Khorgos Gateway. “The role of Xinjiang has changed greatly with the B.R.I.,” Adrian Zenz, an academic expert on China’s minority policy, told me. China’s B.R.I. ambitions have transformed Xinjiang from a fringe territory into what party leaders call a “core region” of development. That’s why awareness of the camps among people in places like Kazakhstan was such an issue, Zenz said. “It has significant potential to cast a very negative light on the Belt and Road.”
More from the same article:
China has never released any official map of Belt and Road routes nor any list of approved projects, and it provides no exact count of participating nations or even guidelines on what it means to be a participant. But this fuzziness may be one of its defining advantages. Rather than a list of megaprojects and bilateral deals, some of which might stumble or fail, the B.R.I. can be understood as a vaguely visible hand guiding all the interlocking developments in infrastructure, energy and trade where China plays any kind of role.
It is also a framework through which China’s leaders can present virtually any component of its foreign policy, from a soda-ash plant in Turkey to China’s first foreign military base, in Djibouti, as part of a nonthreatening vision of what party representatives like to call “win win” global development. In recent years, China has floated several expansions of President Xi Jinping’s initial Belt and Road vision that make its scope seem all but limitless: the “Digital Silk Road” into the frontiers of the virtual, the “Pacific Silk Road” to South America, and the Arctic-crossing “Silk Road on Ice.” Xi himself has meanwhile extolled the merits of globalization at Davos and worked to brand his “project of the century” as a natural extension of the spontaneous trade routes that once laced across the Eurasian continent.
Critics have described the B.R.I. as a new kind of colonialism or even part of a strategy of “debt-trap diplomacy,” seducing cash-poor countries with infrastructure projects that are unlikely to generate enough revenue to cover the interest on the loans that funded them. That is the unhappy situation at the China-funded Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, which the China Harbor Engineering Company took over after Sri Lanka fell behind on debt service. The Center for Global Development lists eight countries that face high risk of “debt distress” from B.R.I. projects that they can’t afford.
In other news related to LPC’s Belt & Road centre:
The Liaison Office, the Communist Party’s headquarters in Hong Kong, recently held its annual Chinese New Year banquet, at which it presents awards to Hong Kong people seen to have best served Party interests. The former Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying received an award for promoting Belt & Road and “cultural exchange”. Reading this article, you will see how closely the objectives of the LPC Belt & Road centre align with the objectives of the Chinese government. In fact, LPC’s initial statements about the Belt & Road centre even echoed official government statements, employing the same phrases such as “people-to-people exchange”, as in, “The vast majority of Hong Kong compatriots are promoters of people-to-people exchange between China and foreign countries.”
Meanwhile, 13 US members of Congress have nominated Ilham Tohti for Nobel Peace Prize. He is a Uighur academic who throughout his career promoted dialogue between the majority Han of China and Uighurs. In 2014, China absurdly sentenced him to life in prison for “separatism”. In retrospect, this was the beginning of what became the mass, systematic and on-going crackdown on Uighurs. In aligning themselves with the Chinese Communist Party, LPC and UWC are not on the side of peace but its opposite, oppression. There are many illustrious and inspiring peacemakers throughout Asia that UWC could partner with; that it chose the biggest dictatorship in the world instead says a lot about its real values.
The latest news on UWC’s other favorite dictatorship, UAE, is not pretty. A lengthy Reuters investigation finds it employed U.S. intelligence operatives to hack and spy on “not just terrorists and foreign government agencies, but also dissidents and human rights activists. The Emiratis categorized them as national security targets.” Among their victims was the Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman, as well Ahmed Mansoor, a political prisoner serving a 10-year sentence in UAE for social media posts critical of the government. Instead of partnering with a true peacemaker like Tawakkol Karman, a fierce critic of UAE’s invasion and occupation of Yemen, UWC is siding with her oppressor.
Lastly, if you are interested in reading about the kind of global elitist mentality that lead to UWC taking money from a tycoon allied with the Communist Party for a centre named after a Party initiative and from one of the dictators of UAE, I strongly recommend Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Giridharadas writes from the inside, himself coming from the world of finance and consulting into which UWC has funneled many of its students in the past couple of decades via Davis scholarships and from which some of its board members come.
January 25, 2019
LPC Belt & Road centre’s “cultural exchange” as cover for cultural genocide
· The cultural genocide in Xinjiang goes on as LPC continues to make plans to open the Belt & Road centre for “cultural exchange”. Two articles below about detained Uighur cultural and intellectual figures show what that cultural genocide means in practice.
· Xinjiang expert James Millward’s New York Review of Books cover story “China’s New Muslim Gulag” summarizes the many ways China is destroying Uighur culture.
· Why Muslim-majority countries aren’t speaking out- China’s money- relevant for LPC, which is also taking money to support a Chinese government project.
· Hong Kong Chief Executive is grilled about Belt & Road at Davos.
· George Soros criticizes Belt & Road at length in his speech at Davos on the threat China poses to the world.
Cultural genocide in Xinjiang: How China targets Uighur artists, academics and writers, by Rachel Harris, renowned scholar of Uighur culture and religion at SOAS in London, this article profiles a beloved Uighur musician, Sanubar Tursun, who was disappeared by Chinese authorities in December 2018 as part of a much wider crackdown on Uighur cultural figures.
Because Li Po Chun has characterized part of what is to occur at its Belt & Road centre as ‘cultural exchange’ and insisted it has nothing to do with politics, it is important to recognize that part of the crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang — Belt & Road heartland — involves the detention of hundreds of Uighur artists, musicians, writers, publishers, comedians and academics, who are most likely being detained because of their influence over Uighur society and the fact that they play a key role in shaping Uighur identity. Culture does not exist in an apolitical void. Naming a centre Belt & Road after the Chinese Communist Party’s premiere foreign policy initiative and describing its activities as ‘cultural exchange’ is a inevitably political statement. Whatever “cultural exchange”that takes place under the aegis of the Belt & Road centre provides cover for cultural genocide.
Another recent piece on a Uighur intellectual leader, “A Death Sentence for a Life of Service”. It is about the former president of Xinjiang University, Tashpolat Tiyip, who dedicated much of his professional life to academic exchange with universities around the world. He was detained at the Beijing airport in December 2017 on his way to an academic conference abroad, and it is has been reported that he’s been sentenced to death in a secret trial. Academic institutions such as Li Po Chun have a special responsibility to show solidarity with colleagues in education like Tashpolat, all the more so when their interest in cultural and academic exchange presumably overlaps.
Xinjiang expert James Millward’s “China’s New Muslim Gulag” is the New York Review of Books cover story. It provides an excellent survey of the recent history of how China got to the point of detaining upwards of one million Uighurs in concentration camps in the Belt & Road heartland. Among other things, it’s now estimated that there are more security personnel per capita in Xinjiang than in East Germany in the 1980s.
The following paragraph from the article gives a good sense of the ways in which China’s crackdown on Uighurs targets their culture directly. Given that LPC intends the Belt & Road centre to facilitate “cultural exchange”, this is especially germane.
Distinctive Uighur religious and other cultural practices are increasingly circumscribed or legally banned. School instruction in the Uighur language, once available from kindergarten to the university level, has been eliminated. Xinjiang authorities now define as “extremist” veils, head coverings, “abnormal beards,” long clothing, fasting at Ramadan, the greeting assalam alaykum (“peace be upon you” in Arabic), avoiding alcohol, not smoking, “Islamic” baby names like Muhammad and Fatima, the star and crescent symbol, religious education, mosque attendance, simple weddings, religious weddings, weddings without music, cleansing a corpse before burial, burial itself (as opposed to cremation), visiting Sufi shrines, Sufi religious dancing, praying with feet apart, foreign travel or study abroad, interest in foreign travel or study abroad, communicating with friends or relatives outside China, having the wrong kinds of books on one’s shelves or content on one’s phone, and avoidance of state radio or television. Though generally not publicly religious, members of the Uighur cultural, academic, and business elite, including top administrators of universities and chief editors of presses, have been singled out for detention.
One question that has frequently arisen is why majority-Muslim countries have been so silent about the crackdown in Xinjiang, especially when several were outspoken about the genocidal attacks on the Rohingya in Burma. This article addresses that: ‘We owe China, what can we do?’ Why Muslim countries stay silent over China’s mass detention of Uighurs”. The short answer, of course, is money. Given that LPC is also taking funding to support a Chinese government project, UWC must understand the implications of funding sources affecting policy and operations.
Meanwhile, at Davos, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was grilled about Belt & Road. This is surprising, as she’s not really the one responsible for it, but it’s a sign that even among the global elite, there’s growing disquiet about Belt & Road and it has an increasingly negative image, just as LPC is jumping on the disreputable Belt & Road bandwagon.
And a couple of days later at Davos, George Soros used his annual speech to criticize Xi Jinping as “the most dangerous opponent of open societies.” Remarkably, he dedicated seven paragraphs of his speech to criticizing Belt & Road. Those paragraphs are excerpted below:
Xi presents China as a role model for other countries to emulate, but he’s facing criticism not only at home but also abroad. His Belt and Road Initiative has been in operation long enough to reveal its deficiencies.
It was designed to promote the interests of China, not the interests of the recipient countries; its ambitious infrastructure projects were mainly financed by loans, not by grants, and foreign officials were often bribed to accept them. Many of these projects proved to be uneconomic.
The iconic case is in Sri Lanka. China built a port that serves its strategic interests. It failed to attract sufficient commercial traffic to service the debt and enabled China to take possession of the port. There are several similar cases elsewhere and they’re causing widespread resentment.
Malaysia is leading the pushback. The previous government headed by Najib Razak sold out to China but in May 2018 Razak was voted out of office by a coalition led by Mahathir Mohamed. Mahathir immediately stopped several big infrastructure projects and is currently negotiating with China how much compensation Malaysia will still have to pay.
The situation is not as clear-cut in Pakistan, which has been the largest recipient of Chinese investments. The Pakistani army is fully beholden to China but the position of Imran Khan who became prime minister last August is more ambivalent. At the beginning of 2018, China and Pakistan announced grandiose plans in military cooperation. By the end of the year, Pakistan was in a deep financial crisis. But one thing became evident: China intends to use the Belt and Road Initiative for military purposes as well.
All these setbacks have forced Xi Jinping to modify his attitude toward the Belt and Road Initiative. In September, he announced that “vanity projects” will be shunned in favor of more carefully conceived initiatives and in October, the People’s Daily warned that projects should serve the interests of the recipient countries.
Customers are now forewarned and several of them, ranging from Sierra Leone to Ecuador, are questioning or renegotiating projects.
January 18, 2019
Human Rights Watch highlights criticism of Belt & Road in annual world report
On January 17, Human Rights Watch released its annual world report, dedicating two paragraphs in the introduction to criticizing China’s Belt & Road initiative. It is very unusual for an international human rights organization to so prominently highlight criticism of a trade infrastructure initiative. HRW does so quite rightly because of Belt & Road’s negative impact on democracy and human rights. The sort of perspective articulated by HRW will haunt Li Po Chun’s cynical and deceptive attempt to link Belt & Road with “peace”. (For an example of the latter, see the head’s newsletter which I forwarded to you as an attachment in December.)
“China’s much-touted ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative to develop trade infrastructure fostered autocratic mismanagement in other countries. In keeping with Beijing’s longstanding practice, Belt and Road loans come with no visible conditions, making Beijing a preferred lender for autocrats. These unscrutinized infusions of cash made it easier for corrupt officials to pad their bank accounts while saddling their people with massive debt in the service of infrastructure projects that in several cases benefit China more than the people of the indebted nation.
“In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad cancelled three major infrastructure projects financed by Chinese loans amid concerns that his predecessor, Najib Razak, had agreed to unfavorable terms to obtain funds to cover up a corruption scandal. Unable to afford its enormous debt burden, Sri Lanka was forced to surrender control of a port to China, built with Chinese loans but without an economic rationale in the home district of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Kenya came to rue a Chinese-funded railroad that offered no promise of economic viability. Pakistan, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, and the Maldives all expressed regret at having agreed to certain Chinese-funded projects. Talk of a Chinese ‘debt trap’ became common.”
Criticism of China’s mass internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, Belt & Road heartland, also featured prominently in the report’s introduction:
“Multilateral pressure also began building on the Chinese government, which represents a dangerous challenge to human rights not only because of the severity of its repression — the worst since the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement of 1989 — but also because it represents an autocrat’s dream: the prospect of long-term power and economic gain without human rights, democracy, or the rule of law.
“But the last year saw greater scrutiny of the downside of such unaccountable government. Some critics focused on Chinese authorities’ mass-surveillance ambitions — the deployment of systems that use facial-recognition software, artificial intelligence, and big data to more effectively monitor the population and predict, among other things, political loyalty. International businesses also came under growing pressure not to become complicit in these intrusive practices.
“The issue receiving the most attention was the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention for ‘re-education’ of upwards of 1 million Muslims in the Xinjiang region, mostly ethnic Uyghurs, to force them to disown their Muslim faith and ethnic identity. This brainwashing effort is not limited to China’s burgeoning detention facilities: the government has deployed some 1 million officials to live in Muslims’ homes and spy on them to ensure their political and cultural loyalty.
“In response, China faced tough questions from many countries during a periodic review at the UN Human Rights Council, and a coalition of 15 Western ambassadors, spearheaded by Canada, sought to challenge Xinjiang’s party secretary, Chen Quanguo, over these abuses. Speaking to the Human Rights Council just one week after her appointment, the new UN high commissioner for human rights, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern at the crackdown on Uyghurs and called for access to the region.”
The war crimes committed by UWC’s other favorite dictatorship, UAE, as the second most important member of the Saudi-led coalition that’s invaded, bombed and blockaded Yemen, killing and starving civilians, were also condemned in the report’s introduction:
“With the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, and Canada taking the lead, the Human Rights Council also rejected a heavy-handed Saudi effort to avoid scrutiny of war crimes in Yemen, such as the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated bombing and devastating blockade of Yemeni civilians that have left millions on the brink of starvation in what UN officials describe as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis…. the Human Rights Council resolved to continue an international investigation started last year of war crimes in Yemen by a vote of 21 to 8 with 18 abstentions.”
UWC cannot plead ignorance over its complicity. Partnering with dictatorships amounts to whitewashing. In UWC’s unscrupulous search for money, it appears willing to lend its reputation for use as a propaganda vehicle of abusive regimes.
January 16, 2019
Media updates on Belt & Road and China’s crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang
This article also reports that China spied on Wall Street Journal reporters in Hong Kong as a favor to the previous corrupt Malaysian government.
Chinese companies are involved in at least 240 coal projects in 25 of the Belt and Road countries, including in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Serbia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. China is also financing about half of proposed new coal capacity in Egypt, Tanzania, and Zambia.
B & R variously described as a slush fund, a chaotic branding and franchising exercise
This review of the best human rights journalism around the world in 2018 provides a list of 32 of the best articles about China’s crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Here are a couple of useful reports on the other dictatorship UWC has affiliated itself with, United Arab Emirates.
Most of the coverage of human rights abuses in Yemen has focused on Saudi Arabia as the leader of the invading coalition. This is one of the best on UAE, the second most important coalition member. Much of the coverage of UAE has focused on the bombings of civilians and blockades of ports, causing starvation. This focuses on UAE’s on-the-ground role. It is based in Aden and controls proxy militias throughout the south of Yemen.