European Companies Get Rich in China’s ‘Open Air Prison’

Workers tend to a vehicle at the SAIC Volkswagen’s facility in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on Sept 4, 2018 [Photo by Zhu Xingxin/]

By Benjamin Haas
Mr. Haas is a visiting academic fellow at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.
Aug. 21, 2019 Updated 3:51 p.m. ET

BERLIN — Many people around the world may just now be learning that

around a million

Uighur Muslims and other minorities have been locked up in extrajudicial


camps in the region of Xinjiang, in western China. There is a reason for that: Xinjiang is remote and the Chinese government has expended considerable effort to keep the news hidden, from harassing foreign journalists to seizing family members of activists to censoring information within its own borders.

Herbert Diess, however, should have no excuse.

Mr. Diess is the chief executive of Volkswagen, which opened a plant in Xinjiang in 2013 that employs almost 700 local workers and can make up to 50,000 cars a year. In an interview with the BBC in April, Mr. Diess said he was not aware of the system of camps or the Muslim minorities subject to mass detention, even though his company’s factory is within a 90-minute drive from four such detention centers. (The

company issued a new statement saying it did, in fact, know about the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and was committed to human rights.)