China hails Xinjiang jobs success as criticism mounts

Beijing has come under intense international criticism over its policies in the resource-rich region. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

China hails Xinjiang jobs success as criticism mounts

  • Rights groups say as many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • On Thursday the government published a white paper staunchly defending its policy in the region

BEIJING: China lauded the success of its vocational and jobs schemes in the troubled Xinjiang region on Thursday, just days after the US government said they were being operated from facilities run like “concentration camps.”
Beijing has come under intense international criticism over its policies in the resource-rich region, where rights groups say as many as one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps.
US customs said Monday it would bar a raft of Chinese products from Xinjiang over fears of forced labor, saying “religious and ethnic minorities are... forced to work in heinous conditions with no recourse and no freedom.”
Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told reporters: “This is not a vocational center, it is a concentration camp.”
But Beijing says the centers are for vocational training, necessary for counter terrorism efforts and to provide education for alleviating poverty.
On Thursday the government published a white paper staunchly defending its policy in the region, where it says training programs, work schemes and better education mean life has improved.
The report says Xinjiang has “vigorously implemented employment projects, enhanced vocational training, and expanded employment channels and capacity.”
It says vocational training for millions has improved the quality of the workforce.
“Xinjiang has built a large knowledge-based, skilled and innovative workforce that meets the requirements of the new era,” the report reads.
Training includes teaching written and spoken Mandarin, labor skills and giving knowledge of urban life, according to the report, which says rural people have started businesses or taken employment in factories after state support.
Every year between 2014 and 2019, Xinjiang gave “training sessions” to an average of 1.29 million urban and rural workers, it says, adding that employment policies “meet the people’s needs (and) improve their wellbeing.”
However, the white paper warns there is a low level of vocational skills and says “terrorists, separatists and religious extremists” have encouraged the public not to learn Chinese, to “reject modern science, and refuse to improve their vocational skills.”
Swedish clothing giant H&M said this week it was ending its relationship with a Chinese yarn producer over accusations of “forced labor” in Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.
Beijing has denied claims of forced labor and in Tuesday’s report said it would take “resolute action” against it.
The EU meanwhile has urged China to allow independent observers to travel to the highly surveilled region.
China this week said experts were “welcome” but did not detail if they would be allowed free access to the controversial faciltiies.
State media frequently shows apparently happy vocational students studying or working in the large facilities.
But rights groups have warned of forced detentions and political indoctrination as part of a campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to erase the ethnic group’s identity and culture.
In a white paper on Xinjiang in March, China defended its controversial security crackdown and said nearly 13,000 “terrorists” have been arrested there since 2014.


US Embassy in Kabul warns of extremist attacks against women

Updated 18 September 2020

US Embassy in Kabul warns of extremist attacks against women

  • The “Taliban don’t have any plans to carry out any such attacks,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said
  • Peace negotiations underway in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, are in the initial stages

KABUL, Afghanistan: The US Embassy in Afghanistan is warning that extremists groups are planning attacks against a “variety of targets” but are taking particular aim at women.
The warning issued late Thursday doesn’t specify the organizations plotting the attacks, but it comes as the Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are sitting together for the first time to try to find a peaceful end to decades of relentless war.
The “Taliban don’t have any plans to carry out any such attacks,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told The Associated Press on Friday.
Peace negotiations underway in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, are in the initial stages with participants still hammering out what items on the agenda will be negotiated and when.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said at the start of negotiations last weekend that spoilers existed on both sides. He said that some among Afghanistan’s many leaders would be content to continue with the status quo rather than find a peaceful end to the war that might involve power sharing.
According to the embassy warning, “extremist organizations continue to plan attacks against a variety of targets in Afghanistan, including a heightened risk of attacks targeting female government and civilian workers, including teachers, human rights activists, office workers, and government employees.”
The embassy did not provide specifics, including how imminent is the threat.
The Taliban have been harshly criticized for their treatment of women and girls during their five-year rule when the insurgent group denied girls access to school and women to work outside their home. The Taliban rule ended in 2001 when a US-led coalition ousted the hard-line regime for its part in sheltering Al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
One of the government-appointed peace negotiators, Fawzia Koofi, a strong, outspoken proponent of women’s rights, was shot last month in Afghanistan, but escaped serious injuries and attended the opening of negotiations last weekend. The Taliban quickly denied responsibility and Khalilzad again warned of the dangers to the process.
The United States has said that perhaps one of the most dangerous extremist groups operating in Afghanistan is the Islamic State affiliate, headquartered in the country’s east and held responsible for some of the most recent attacks. The IS affiliate has declared war on minority Shiite Muslims and has claimed credit for horrific attacks targeting them.
The United Nations as well as Afghanistan’s many international allies have stressed the need for any peace deal to protect the rights of women and minorities. Negotiations are expected to be difficult and protracted and will also include constitutional changes, disarming the tens of thousands of the Taliban as well as militias loyal to warlords, some of whom are allied with the government.
The advances for women made since 2001 have been important. Women are now members of parliament, girls have the right to education, women are in the workforce and their rights are enshrined in the constitution. Women are also seen on television, playing sports and winning science fairs.
But the gains are fragile, and their implementation has been erratic, largely unseen in rural areas where most Afghans still live.
The 2018 Women, Peace and Security Index rated Afghanistan as the second worst place in the world to be a woman, after Syria. Only 16% of the labor force are women, one of the lowest rates in the world, and half of Afghanistan’s women have had four years or less of education, according to the report, which was compiled by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo. Only around half of school-aged girls go to school, and only 19% of girls under 15 are literate, according to the UN children’s agency.
Nearly 60% of girls are married before they are 19, on average between 15 and 16 years old, to spouses selected by their parents, according to UNICEF.
Until now, parliament has been unable to ratify a bill on the protection of women.
There are also Islamic hard-liners among the politically powerful in Kabul, including Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who is the inspiration behind the Philippine terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a US-designated militant who made peace with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in 2016.