Recently, the Chinese Communist government has stated its support for a civil lawsuit brought by some Xinjiang companies and individuals against a German scholar for reputational and financial damages. The scholar, Zheng Guoyen, has exposed the use of forced labor against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang internationally. Some analysts say this is a counter-strategy to “harass” overseas scholars in the face of growing international pressure.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Endorsement
On March 8, Tianshan.com, the official website of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, said that some enterprises and people in Xinjiang had appointed lawyers to sue German scholar Zheng Guoyen in a local court, alleging that his research on “forced labor” in Xinjiang had led to an embargo on local cotton and related products in some countries, causing economic losses and demanding an apology, restoration of reputation and compensation for damages. He demanded an apology, restoration of reputation and damages.
The source also threatened to file a lawsuit against people or organizations like Zheng Guon, not excluding more damaged companies and individuals. However, the website did not mention which companies or individuals filed the lawsuit, or the amount of compensation sought.
Subsequently, CCP Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on March 9 that Zheng’s “forced labor” allegations were “rumors” and expressed support for the lawsuit, saying that “Zheng and the evil anti-China forces behind him “One day they will be liquidated.
Photo: Adrian Zenz, a German scholar on China’s Xinjiang
Adrian Zenz is an influential German scholar who has studied Xinjiang in recent years and is currently a senior fellow in China studies at the Congressionally mandated Washington-based Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism. He is one of the first scholars to expose the construction of internment camps in Xinjiang and the mass incarceration of millions of Uighur and Kazakh Muslims through his research of satellite images, official Chinese Communist Party documents and witnesses.
Zheng also published a study last year accusing the Chinese Communist Party of forcing Uighur women to undergo birth control in Xinjiang to curb the growth of the local minority population. His research also alleges that a large number of cotton fabrics in China are involved in “forced labor” of Uyghurs.
Forced Labor for Poverty Alleviation
On March 8, the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank, released a lengthy report in which experts assessing the persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang concluded that the Chinese Communist authorities have committed serious violations of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of genocide (the Convention). The report concludes that the Chinese authorities have committed serious violations of the Genocide Convention and meet the criteria for genocide. The Chinese government bears “state responsibility” for this.
About 50 experts in international law, genocide studies, Chinese ethnic policy and Xinjiang issues participated in the assessment, including Zheng Guoyen.
Zheng was one of the expert witnesses at a March 10 hearing of the U.S. federal government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom on the involvement of U.S. companies in “forced labor” in Xinjiang. He testified that China uses the pretext of helping to “lift people out of poverty” to force Uyghurs to work.
He said the Chinese government has imposed forced labor on the Uighurs through two programs. The first is to transfer surplus labor from rural areas to secondary or tertiary industries. The second is to turn those who have “graduated” from “vocational training centers” into forced labor. Both the factories and the Education centers are highly monitored by the government, he said, and those inside are forced to undergo “political education” by the government while being banned from any religious activities.
A new tactic of the official Chinese media?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Communist Party media, including the Global Times, have repeatedly accused Zheng Guoyen’s study in the past few years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied in February 2018 the existence of detention camps in Xinjiang as alleged by Zheng Guoyen. However, in August of the same year, it changed its story to say that they were “vocational training centers” used to combat alleged extremism and terrorism.
The Global Times, which has always promoted nationalist sentiments, interviewed He Zhipeng, dean of the law school at Jilin University and executive director of the Chinese Society of International Law, on March 9. According to He Zhipeng, according to the general principle of jurisdiction, this is “protective jurisdiction”, “that is, if a foreigner does something outside China that infringes on China’s national interests, China can also have jurisdiction”.
He also said that if the lawsuit is opened, China will not do the “long-arm jurisdiction”, but if Zheng Guoyen arrives in a region related to China’s judicial area, the lawsuit will be handled, not just a piece of paper. Moreover, the “reputational impact” of the lawsuit may be greater than the substantive impact, and there will be more and more such lawsuits in the future.
The first domestic prosecution of an overseas scholar on human rights in China, like Zheng, is the latest strategy by China to counter allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang, Bloomberg said. Reuters quoted human rights sources as saying that this could set a “worrying precedent” and send a signal to foreign companies and individuals who are “outspoken” on Xinjiang affairs.
Zheng himself recently described the lawsuits in the social media as part of a prepared propaganda counter-attack by the Chinese Communist Party. He also told the media that the lawsuit does not bother him, but only shows that his research “really annoys them” and that “there is an element of desperation” to show the outside world that his research “has a real impact “. He stressed that the lawsuit is a sign that U.S. economic sanctions against Xinjiang are having a significant impact, and that it is “the first Time they have acknowledged that they have suffered significant economic losses.
Zheng also said he believes the lawsuits are a “welcome opportunity” to bring more attention to Xinjiang and to examine the evidence of genocide in Xinjiang in more detail. He added that he last visited China more than 10 years ago and has no intention of visiting the country in the future.
Expert: Prosecution is a party decision
On Twitter and other social media, some international China scholars and many netizens expressed disgust at Zheng’s so-called “prosecution” in Xinjiang, calling China’s latest move to counter accusations of genocide in the region “unacceptable.
Chen Jiangang, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer who was forced to leave China due to the crackdown on his representation of sensitive cases in China, was a visiting scholar at American University School of Law. According to Chen, China is not a rule of law country, and whether or not a case can be filed depends not on the facts of the case, but on the decision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), especially in Xinjiang, where CCP control is tighter than in other provinces. Therefore, the prosecution of German scholar Zheng Guoyen is entirely a decision of the Chinese Communist Party, and is part of the authorities’ response to international accusations of genocide and oppression in Xinjiang, creating a massive human rights tragedy.
He said, “This is a decision of the Chinese Communist Party, but it is just taking some companies to act as plaintiffs and send a message to the public. The CCP is actually putting out a message and shouting to the public by operating this way. Forced labor, mass incarceration, etc. to raise doubts.”
Really seek enforcement in U.S. courts?
Commenting on the case on a platform dedicated to Chinese law and politics (China Collection), George Washington University law professor Donald Clark said Zheng Guoyen need not worry about this lawsuit because he will not go to China. If the Chinese companies try to go to the U.S. courts to seek enforcement of the Chinese court’s decision, it would only constitute “harassment” of Zheng. However, some believe that if they do come to the United States to seek enforcement, it would only add to the ridicule of the outside world.
Chen said he is not an expert in international law and is not sure how a Chinese Communist Party company could come to a Western country with a rule of law to seek enforcement of a so-called court ruling from a non-rule of law system. However, scholars prosecuted by the Chinese Communist Party are safe, at best, from harassment by the Chinese Communist Party, as long as they do not travel to areas under its jurisdiction.
He said, “You have something like this that can only be valid in China, which means the CCP is directing itself and putting on its own show. Judgments within China are written by the CCP at will. It would be a great disservice to the world if such judgments could be recognized and enforced by agreement to other countries. Of course I believe this cannot be done. Civilized countries will certainly not submit to the CCP being their ‘long arm’. That is, a nuisance, and for the world this is a joke.”
Uyghur national Raihan Aiseti works as an international litigator at a law firm in Washington, D.C., specializing in anti-graft and international investigation cases. She told Voice of America that a proper court has to provide the defendant with a Due Process of law for his or her defense, and that U.S. courts will not accept a ruling from a court in Xinjiang that is not a part of the rule of law society, especially in a case with such political clout. Zheng’s research is based on facts and is widely recognized by the international community.
She said, “China is an ungoverned country, and you can’t even guarantee this due process, that is, due process of law, and then you say to yourself, we won the case. The U.S. courts are not likely to recognize that.”
Tough governance turns into a human rights disaster
Since the violent July 5 ethnic clashes between Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in 2009, and the 2013 drive-by of Uyghur Muslims into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Beijing has tightened its control and surveillance of the Xinjiang population. Since Chen Guoduo took charge of Xinjiang in August 2016 and promulgated “de-extremism” regulations in early 2017, authorities have significantly intensified the scale and extent of their crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
Beginning in late 2017, there were sporadic reports of disappearances of Uyghur Muslims in overseas media. Subsequently, a number of studies by international scholars, including the German scholar Zheng Guon, have emerged on the large-scale “re-education camps” in Xinjiang.
Scholars and activists estimate that up to one million Muslims are being held in more than a thousand re-education camps across Xinjiang. Another 2 million people are subjected to some form of forced re-education.
In August 2018, UN human rights experts expressed concern about what they said were numerous and reliable reports on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. And at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, China was asked for the first time to publicly answer questions about the crackdown on Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. Chinese officials did not respond.
Previously, however, Chinese officials have said that increased security measures and restrictions on the religious activities of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are intended to prevent violence, separatism, terrorism and religious extremism.
In September 2018, the international organization Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report titled “Removing the Ideological Virus: China’s Crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang,” which reveals a dramatic escalation in repressive measures through numerous specific cases and expert reports, including the detention of more than 1 million Muslims in “re-education camps” in addition to detention centers, prisons and other facilities. In addition to detention centers and prisons, more than one million Muslims are being held in “re-education camps,” where they are forced to learn Chinese, sing red songs, and recite laws and regulations against them, among other political indoctrination. They are also restricted from communicating and practicing their religion.
In November 2019, the New York Times reported that a 403-page trove of internal Communist Party documents they had obtained provided an unprecedented insider’s view of the ongoing crackdown in Xinjiang. Over the past three years, authorities have put as many as one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in “internment camps” and prisons.
Forced Labor Product “Suspension Orders”
By 2020, there was more evidence and research showing that the CCP was practicing “forced labor” on a large scale in Xinjiang. The most important of these studies comes from German scholar Zheng Enguo.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a survey last March that said tens of thousands of Uyghurs were forced to work in the foundry factories of major global corporations, including Nike and Apple.
A new report released Dec. 14 by the Center for Global Policy, a U.S. think tank, revealed that at least 570,000 ethnic minorities in just three Uyghur-populated regions have been forced to leave their hometowns to perform inefficient, high-intensity manual cotton picking work as a result of a forced labor transfer and poverty eradication program in Xinjiang. The Chinese Foreign Ministry immediately denied the allegations and criticized the report’s author, Zheng Guoyen.
Major fashion brands such as Nike, Adidas and Gap have come under fire from human rights groups for using cotton from Xinjiang. The Xinjiang region produces more than 20 percent of the world’s cotton and is a major producer in the global textile supply chain.
On January 13, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued another announcement that it would detain cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang at all U.S. ports of entry. This “hold order” applies to raw fiber, apparel, and textiles made from cotton grown in Xinjiang, as well as canned tomatoes, sauces, dumplings, and other tomato products from Xinjiang, even if the goods are processed or manufactured in a third country.
DHS officials said the “hold order” sends a signal to importers that DHS will not tolerate any form of “forced labor” and that companies should remove Xinjiang products from their supply chains.
Chinese Communist Party Accused of “Genocide”
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on January 19 formally finding the Chinese government guilty of “genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” in Xinjiang.
At the same time, the Canadian Parliament passed a bill charging the Chinese government with genocide in Xinjiang, making it the first legislature in the world to make such a finding. Despite the Chinese government’s heavy criticism of Canada, the latest polls show that the vast majority of Canadians approve of the parliamentary approach and believe a tougher policy toward China is warranted. The Dutch parliament, a member of the European Union, has also passed a similar proposal.
The U.S. House of Representatives reintroduced a bill in February that would ban imports of products produced by forced labor from China’s Xinjiang region and impose further sanctions on Chinese officials who violate the human rights of Muslims.
The State Department said March 9 that Secretary of State Blinken agreed with the Trump administration’s determination that the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang constitutes genocide and crimes against humanity.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a regular State Department press conference that the Biden administration supports the Trump Administration‘s last-minute decision before the end of his term that China committed genocide in Xinjiang.
Blinken said March 10 that he and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with Communist Party Foreign Affairs Office Director Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Alaska and will raise issues of U.S. concern, including human rights in Xinjiang, and that the U.S. is more interested in concrete actions and substantive results from China in addressing these issues, which will also be relevant to subsequent engagement between the two countries.
On the same day, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also issued a statement saying that the Chinese government’s forced sterilization of Uighur women in Xinjiang and the mass detention of Uighur Muslims and other Muslims in Xinjiang were “proven.
The French foreign minister told the French Senate that “the forced sterilization of women, the rape of women in concentration camps, disappearances, mass detentions, forced labor, the destruction of cultural heritage, most notably the destruction of mosques, and the surveillance of people, have all been proven.