The Uyghurs Forced to Process the World’s Fish

Ian Urbina writes for The New Yorker highlighting research from VOC’s Dr. Adrian ZenzSenior Fellow and Director in China Studies, on the connection between Uyghur forced labor and the international seafood business.

As the article describes, “on a cloudy morning this past April, more than eighty men and women, dressed in matching red windbreakers, stood in orderly lines in front of the train station in Kashgar, a city in Xinjiang, China. The people were Uyghurs, one of China’s largest ethnic minorities, and they stood with suitcases at their feet and dour expressions on their faces, watching a farewell ceremony held in their honor by the local government. A video of the event shows a woman in a traditional red-and-yellow dress and doppa cap pirouetting on a stage. A banner reads ‘Promote Mass Employment and Build Societal Harmony.’ At the end of the video, drone footage zooms out to show trains waiting to take the group away. The event was part of a vast labor-transfer program run by the Chinese state, which forcibly sends Uyghurs to work in industries across the country, including processing seafood that is then exported to the United States and Europe. ‘It’s a strategy of control and assimilation,’ Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist who studies internment in Xinjiang, said. ‘And it’s designed to eliminate Uyghur culture.’

The labor program is part of a wider agenda to subjugate a historically restive people. China is dominated by the Han ethnic group, but more than half the population of Xinjiang, a landlocked region in northwestern China, is made up of minorities—most of them Uyghur, but some Kyrgyz, Tajik, Kazakh, Hui, or Mongol. Uyghur insurgents revolted throughout the nineteen-nineties, and bombed police stations in 2008 and 2014. In response, China ramped up a broad program of persecution, under which Muslim minorities could be detained for months or years for acts such as reciting a verse of the Quran at a funeral or growing a long beard. By 2017, the government was collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types from all Xinjiang residents between the ages of twelve and sixty-five, and in recent years it combined these biological records with mass surveillance data sourced from Wi-Fi sniffers, CCTV, and in-person visits. The government has placed millions of Uyghurs in ‘reëducation’ camps and detention facilities, where they have been subjected to torture, beatings, and forced sterilization. The U.S. government has described the country’s actions in Xinjiang as a form of genocide.”

Read the full article from The New Yorker here.

Dr. Adrian Zenz is the SeniorFellow and Director in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.