The World Bank’s Inadvertent Aid Towards Enabling Religious Persecution In The East Turkestan Region
On 13th August 2020, The US Congress’ Executive Commission on China(CECC), through its Chairman and Co-Chairman, issued a letter to the World Bank President, expressing their concern over the continuance of disbursal of loan towards 5 directly funded Vocational Schools in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) , raising a series of questions that need to be addressed in detail. This letter assumes significance at a time when reports have emanated over egregious Human Rights violations being allegedly committed by China in the region, where, in 2015 the World Bank had promised 50 million dollars worth of loan for development of “Xinjiang Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project”, comprising of 5 directly funded institutions along with Partner Schools getting indirect funding. If any part of that amount is proven to be misappropriated for other ulterior purposes by China, it would indirectly make US a complicit party as well-considering the investment it has in the World Bank for its projects. This could impinge upon US efforts in bringing China to justice on account of Human Rights violations, which makes the Committee’s concerns valid.
Background of the Issue
Since the first evidence of persecution was reported by the findings of the Busby Testimony, it was revealed that the process of mass internment by the Chinese Government had begun on a large scale by April 2017 in XUAR, which was the earliest estimate investigative studies could attribute the incidents to, though some reports stated that such high handed measures trace back to the reaction of the Chinese Government in response to Kunming Attack of 2014. This report , along with stories of anguish and torture experienced by the previous prisoners of such camps led to the US taking the initiative of raising the cause of the Uyghur People, which eventually led to passing of a bipartisan legislation in this regard, assented to by US President Donald Trump .
However, while the US administration escalated pressure on China to be more transparent on its activities in XUAR, the World Bank continued to fund TVET Project , which led to the first letter issued to its chairman by the CECC in August 2019, seeking to inquire about 3 issues:
Whether an Independent Audit into the project by a party having no conflict of interest was conducted?
Whether on Investigation any Teachers, Staff or Students were found to be in internment?
Whether World Bank had any plans to end the loan disbursal to TVET in the light of recent findings and if not what was the rationale of continuing to give such loans?
World Bank, in its response stated that its Procurement Plan ensured all goods, works and services procured using World Bank funding were subjected to scrutiny by Financial Statements and Audits conducted by World Bank Auditors. It also talked about its Ethnic Minority Development Programme, which conducted external surveys to monitor student progress after graduation. The World Bank also conducted comprehensive Social and Environmental Impact Assessments of the Project.
However, World Bank’s response was reduced to mere rhetoric after Axios Report which revealed that the Chinese had ordered for 30,000 dollars worth of Barbed Wire and Gas Launchers of the grade used allegedly in their Internment Camps for the Partner Schools and Face Recognition Technology for the directly funded Vocational Institutes. This led Senior Management from World Bank visiting Xinjiang to review the Projects, and take the decision to no longer disburse loans for development of Partner Schools.
But the CECC did not express satisfaction, with the core issue still persisting, that though the World Bank announced stoppage of disbursal of loan to the partner schools, it continued its disbursal to the 5 Directly Funded Schools. It is important to note that the Procurement Documents for surveillance through Digital Means came from the Directly Funded Schools. World Bank has earlier responded to this argument by stating that World Bank’s Review does not substantiate these allegations, however a further scrutiny into China’s activities in the region suggest otherwise.
The Social Impact Assessment, for example conducted by World Bank itself for this Project, highlighted gaps in diversity promotion, articulation level of the educators and communication challenges due to the large variety of Ethnic groups residing in the region, a question raised in the latest letter by CECC as well. More importantly, XUAR after the arrival of Chen Quanguo as its Secretary, has turned into a Surveillance State, with the ruthless implementation of Data Mining for storage in the Integrated Joint Operations Platform, that uses AI to create lists of so called “suspicious people”.
Shockingly, for its DNA Collection Program, Physicals for All, Thermo Fisher, a US based company was contracted to supply DNA sequencers. As per ICIJ report, such Disruptive Technologies have led to more than 15,000 journalists being placed in detention. Investigative Journalism in the XUAR reveals a methodical amalgamation of both primitive as well as modern torture practices to deprive the inhabitants of basic standards of Liberty. The SIA report by World Bank for the proposed TVET Project mentions the Shandong Project, which installed “Police Cloud” System to curb activists and journalists. What makes TVET Project a matter of great concern is that the Chinese in efforts to rebut these well-founded allegations justify their actions by altering the terminologies of their acts, so Incarceration becomes “Training” and Persecution becomes “Education”. More accurate are epithets like “Black Factories”, given by Kazakh Muslims to Industries where unfree labour works.
China does all this not only to curb secessionism or to prevent Islamic Terrorism as it claims, but also due to the Strategic geographic location of XUAR, sharing borders with Central Asia, Russia, PoK , Afghanistan and India. This region is the area through which the Road Transport Component of Belt and Road Initiative passes, which is an investment China cannot jeopardise.
How Should Nations Proceed Next
There requires to be an Unequivocal stance by Democracies of the World against CCP for outright violation of Human Rights, Commission of Genocide and denial of Right to Self Determination of People under a Government in exile, which are all part of Jus Cogens Principles of International Law, China’s Actions are affront to UNCESCR principles , which argue for respect of confidentiality. The actions of the Chinese are also not in abeyance with the Abidjan Principles on Education under the purview of UNHRC. At a time when major Muslim Nations have exhibited deafening silence and European Nations have been less than enthusiastic to confront China due to risk of losing out on Trade, any effort made by US should be perceived as positive in ensuring protection of the Human Rights of Minorities, and immediate stoppage of any project in the XUAR until further review should be the grundnorm to follow for any Multilateral Lending Institution. In particular the most preferable response by the World Bank in this regard should be Temporary Suspension of all loans to the Project and immediate re-evaluation of World Bank investments in China, to ensure that it’s twin goals of Reducing Poverty and Boosting Shared Prosperity are realised, without it being an accomplice to the Orwellian State’s injustice against minorities.