Is Something Rotten in the World Bank? A Story of Money Given to China for Charity That It Used to Oppress People in Xinjiang

 The World Bank Group headquarters building in Washington, D.C.24 May 2006 Source	Flickr Author	Shiny Things


Often times, foreign aid is a bête noire. It can alleviate the suffering and meet the needs of many, but it can also be a grand tool in the hands of tyrants. When it comes to totalitarian and despotic regimes, this is always the case. For example, the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine has just dug out an obnoxious case of embezzlement of foreign funds in China: The money supplied by the World Bank was supposed to be used by schools in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for educational purposes, but it has instead been expended to feed the surveillance machine that the CCP controls and oppresses people. Specifically, at least US$30,000, as documents show, have been misused to purchase barbed wire, tear gas, and body armor.

“On Aug. 23,” Ms. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes in Foreign Policy, “the Congressional-Executive Commission on China [CECC], a U.S. government agency that tracks human rights issues in China, issued a letter to World Bank President David Malpass expressing concern about the bank’s $50 million loan program for the ‘Xinjiang Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project’ given to the Department of Education in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. That region is home to about 10 million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, over a million of whom are now forcibly interned in camps that the Chinese government claims are intended to teach vocational skills.” We all know that when the Chinese Communist regime speaks of “vocational skills” and “schools” in Xinjiang (that Uyghurs prefer to call Eastern Turkestan), it really means those concentration camps where millions of people are detained unlawfully in horrible conditions. But the CECC’s finding is equally astonishing for the audacity of Beijing and the naivety of the World Bank, seemingly the only institution in the entire world to ignore what China is doing in Xinjiang.   All the more, in July, Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian reports, a “World Bank employee wrote a lengthy email to an executive director on the bank’s board detailing concerns about the Xinjiang program.” This anonymous source (since World Bank employees are not authorized to speak to the press) also suggested an internal investigation “[…] to ensure that World Bank rules were being followed.” Needless to say, the alarm was ignored by the World Bank; it only assured that all measures for the proper use of the money had been implemented.   But the case in July was not an isolated alarm. “Yarkand Technical School,” Foreign Policy continues, “which is managed by another school as part of the World Bank program, spent about $30,000 purchasing 30 tear gas launchers, 100 anti-riot batons, 400 sets of camouflage clothing, 100 sets of ‘stab-resistant clothing,’ 60 pairs of ‘stab-resistant gloves,’ 45 helmets, 12 metal detectors, 10 police batons, and barbed wire, according to a tender dated November 2018. The tender was first unearthed by the independent researcher Shawn Zhang. It’s not clear if this money came directly from the World Bank loan, or from other funding sources, but it points to worrying cross-over between the camps and legitimate schools.”   The same journalist recalls that an AFP investigation in 2018 “[…] revealed that local governments in Xinjiang had purchased truckloads of police batons, pepper spray, cattle prods, and handcuffs for the so-called training centers.” And this was “one of several such investigations that helped prove to the outside world that the vocational training centers were actually internment camps.” The loan was approved by the World Bank in May 2015 for a project that would have benefitted 48,500 young people in Xinjiang, “where it would ‘build high-quality teaching and management teams and upgrade school facilities and equipment’ as well as offer ‘short-term training programs to rural farmers and urban migrant workers and provide technical services to local communities and enterprises.’” Apparently, the World Bank has also “[…] run similar programs in several other Chinese provinces and in other countries around the world.”

Now, “the language that the Chinese government uses to describe the detention camps is very similar, and in some cases identical, to the name of the World Bank loan program,” Ms. Allen-Ebrahimian adds an important fact. “On Aug. 16, China’s State Council released a white paper titled ‘Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang’ defending the government’s actions there and saying that the centers are necessary ‘to prevent the breeding and spread of terrorism and religious extremism.’” Well, Bitter Winter’s readers have learned in time that this “white paper” is only a new stack of old lies.

To be sure, as CECC’s chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and co-chair Rep. Jim McGovern (D) say in their letter, the World Bank loan came before the use of internment camps, but “[…] our concern is that the World Bank continued to disburse the loan, including for capital building projects, even after it was clear that mass internment was occurring and that the Chinese government was spreading propaganda in defense of its policies.” Answers are yet to be received.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – later called the World Bank – was established in 1944, along with the International Monetary Fund, to offer long-term loans to developing countries in the field of education, agriculture and industry in the aftermath of the World War II disaster, as an offspring of the Bretton Woods agreement, which established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the United States, Canada, Western European countries, Australia, and Japan. Its funds come from the member states, which in turn come from the pockets of their citizens. Does it mean that the money taken from the people in one part of the world feeds the repression of other people in a different part of the same world?