The Uyghurs Forced to Process the World’s Fish

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November 13, 2023 | The Maritime Executive | By Ian Urbina

In the early two-thousands, China began transferring Uyghurs to work outside the region as part of an initiative that would later be known as Xinjiang Aid. The region’s Party secretary noted that the program would promote “full employment” and “ethnic interaction, exchange and blending.” But Chinese academic publications have described it as a way to “crack open” the “solidified problem” of Uyghur society in Xinjiang, where the state sees the “large number of unemployed Uyghur youths” as a “latent threat.” In 2019, researchers at Nankai University in China, who were given privileged access to information about the program, wrote a report that was inadvertently published online, describing the transfers as “an important method to reform, meld, and assimilate” the Uyghur community. Julie Millsap, from the Uyghur Human Rights Project, noted that, through the program, the state can “orchestrate and restrict all aspects of Uyghurs’ lives.” (Officials at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to questions about the program, but Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson, recently said the allegation of forced labor is “nothing but an enormous lie propagated by people against China.”) Between 2014 and 2019, according to government statistics, Chinese authorities annually relocated more than ten per cent of Xinjiang’s population—or over two and a half million people—through labor transfers; some twenty-five thousand people a year were sent out of the region. The effect has been enormous: between 2017 and 2019, according to the Chinese government, birth rates in Xinjiang declined by almost half.

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