Lawmakers worry World Bank is funding China’s Uighur Muslim ‘re-education’ camps

Washington Examiner, 26 August 2019

By Joel Gehrke – World Bank officials have issued a loan to China for the very region where Communist authorities have established mass detention camps targeting Uighur Muslims, drawing rebukes from U.S. lawmakers and analysts.“It is hard to understand how any [nongovernment organization or] any government organization that purports to support Western values and human rights would provide support to China in this region,” Jonathan Schanzer, a senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., told the Washington Examiner. “The World Bank is sending a message that it is not concerned.”

Bank officials predicted that the $50 million loan, extended in 2015, would subsidize technical and vocation training for roughly 48,500 students in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. But local Communist officials have forced more than one million Uighur Muslims into “re-education through labor camps” in recent years, raising congressional concerns that one of the world’s leading financial institutions is financing an ambitious project of ethnic persecution.

“Has the World Bank investigated the possible overlap between mass internment camps and the vocational schools named in the World Bank project?” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to the bank that was released Friday.

The bank, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and draws funding from the world’s wealthiest countries — the United States is the institution’s single largest donor — didn’t have an immediate response. “We take concerns expressed by our member governments very seriously,” a World Bank spokesman told the Washington Examiner. “The commission sent extremely detailed questions, and we plan to provide comprehensive answers.”

China’s repression of the Uighur Muslim population has drawn widespread condemnation from Western leaders. The crackdown is the most blatant use of detention camps against a minority group “since the 1930s,” a senior State Department official said in March. The camps are just one component of a campaign to “Sinicize” Uighur Muslim culture. Communist officials have “banned parents from giving their children a number of traditional Islamic names,” according to another top diplomat, who told Congress that the anti-Muslim crackdown is enforced by “Party personnel embedded in people’s homes.”

Rubio and McGovern acknowledged that the loan predates the use of detention camps against the Uighurs, an ethnic and religious minority in a country led by an officially atheist Communist regime that instructs the Chinese people to “cherish ethnic unity like cherishing our lives.” But the original timing makes little difference to the lawmakers who co-lead the Congressional Executive Commission on China, given that the World Bank has “continued to disburse the loan” despite the reported repression.

“In addition, the publicly available reviews of the loan offer few details about the project and have consistently rated its progress as satisfactory,” they wrote to newly installed World Bank Group President David Malpass.

The loan was reportedly issued with strict quality controls, but that assurance didn’t satisfy China analysts critical of the bank. “It’s just not possible to do anything in Xinjiang right now that’s not controlled very tightly by the Communist Party,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Dan Blumenthal, a former senior director for China at the Defense Department, told the Washington Examiner.

Rubio and McGovern, emphasizing that they believe the repression of the Uighurs “may constitute crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Chinese government,” hinted that they want the bank to scrap any projects underway in Xinjiang.

“Are there any plans for the World Bank to end its support for vocational education projects in the XUAR?” they asked Malpass. “If not, please provide justification for continuing to support them. In addition, given the Chinese and XUAR governments’ complicity in gross violations of human rights, please provide justification for continuing World Bank involvement in any other projects in the XUAR at this time.”

Schanzer endorsed that idea. “We’d be splitting hairs here to say that it’s okay to fund the [Xinjiang] Department of Education, but not other government entities that are behind these camps,” the FDD executive said. “The world should be holding the Chinese government to account.”