- Xinjiang cotton is a deflection strategy to avert the focus from the Uyghur persecution
- The timeline clarifies the Chinese intention how to choose the cotton picking as a subject
- Chinese Communist Party is a mastermind of the propagandas for generations and do not underestimate their capability
Do not fight a battle by the rule of the Chinese government; we are going to lose easily.
Chinese Communist Party started an aggression against the Xinjiang cotton issue in the last week of March 2021, condemning that the global apparel players halted to use the cotton taken from Xinjiang province due to the baseless forced labor allegation. This move is well calculated and CCP has intentionally targeted the cotton picking, as they believe they have an enough chance to win the battle in this field.
There are a couple controversial points at this problem, one of which is a temporary halt driven by Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to use Xinjiang cotton. BCI has suspended licensing of BCI cotton in Xinjiang due to possible malpractices. That has been suspended for years and has not changed due to a difficulty of due diligence in the region.
Another problem has risen recently that the Uyghurs are transferred to different regions to work forced labor in the retail industry. This problem is actually raised earlier in 2020 and there were some reactions in the summer of 2020. It basically means there are completely two different issues related to the Uyghurs and Xinjian in the global retail supply-chain.
Then, the human rights in Xinjiang was raised by the US president Joe Biden at the first remote summit with the Chinese president Xi Jinping in February 2021.
China was placed in a position to fight back the Xinjiang problem and picked up the BCI cotton issue which was raised a few years ago. This move is apparently intentional. They set the term that they have an enough chance to go through and deflect the talking point from the persecution of the Uyghurs to the cotton picking.
It is not necessarily a focal point of Xinjiang problems, though it is true that BCI has suspended Xinjiang cotton for years due to a difficulty of due diligence. In my understanding, this is an issue more like about the exploitation of labor force rather than forced labor. Or it just looks like an exploitation with cheap compensation, partially because the Chinese farming labor force is originally cheap. In this battleground, the Chinese government is pretty much sure that their people can support them as they know the poorness of Chinese farming labor while their working condition has been improved for years, even if it were not yet to achieve a global standard.
There should be another reason why they have decided this theme to go through, as there is enough chance to subdue the global retail players as China holds a big market. If they would like to do business in China, they should follow the Chinese rule; CCP apparently holds a vantage point in this field.
This is the battleground where the Chinese government believes to win.
As a matter of fact, the recent statements from the global apparel brands were not about the labor condition in Xinjiang but the forced labor of Uyghurs; some of them have been transferred to various places as forced labors at the factories related to the supply-chain of the global players. Moreover, this is one of the problems related to the persecution against the Uyghurs by the Chinese government and the US government called overall problem as a genocide.
The focus is now deflected to the cotton picking, which is a meticulous move by the Chinese government, though we do not fight the battle by the Chinese rule. This is just another propaganda and we should realize that the CCP has been one of the masterminds of these techniques since their establishment.
China is smart and do not underestimate their capability. CCP now plays an innocent figure to complain there is no forced labor at the cotton picking in Xinjiang. The Chinese government can be right that there is no far-flung problem condemned as forced labor at this minor point. That is why they have decided to pick this theme to deflect the whole Uyghur persecution to the cotton picking.
Looking through the media, Chinese strategy works quite well, as some of them apparently have stuck to this controversy, claiming Uyghurs are forced to pick the cotton. Do not give the agenda-setting capacity to CCP, as they have selected the theme to go through.
We can trace back how they come up with this idea to use the cotton picking as a deflection. The point is actually at BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) as it is unnatural to place them at the center of Xinjiang problem. Their suspension of Xinjiang cotton is a long due problem, but it is not concerned recently in terms of the Uyghur persecution. There is another related weird pick, which is H&M, the primal target in this series of Chinese attacks out of many global retail leaders.
The answer is hidden in the statement announced by H&M, likely in October 2020 (just in case, the original pdf report likely deleted in their system already).
XUAR is China’s largest cotton growing area, and up until now, our suppliers have sourced cotton from farms connected to Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in the region. As it has become increasingly difficult to conduct credible due diligence in the region, BCI has decided to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in XUAR. This means that cotton for our production will no longer be sourced from there. Furthermore, in collaboration with the industry and supply chain partners, we will continue our work to strengthen the traceability of cotton.https://hmgroup.com/sustainability/fair-and-equal/human-rights/h-m-group-statement-on-due-diligence/
As we can see, H&M mentioned BCI in this statement “BCI has decided to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in XUAR”, and that is why they have not used cottons produced in Xinjiang. They have not directly condemned forced labor in this report, more like a possibility of malpractice of labor conditions in this region.
H&M has likely avoided a direct confrontation and made an indirect excuse that they have not used Xinjiang cotton because of BCI suspension. The truth is that there was a forced labor issue at the supply-chain of apparel industry and some of the major players stopped procurements from those companies related to forced labors in 2020. It is assumed that H&M has shunned mentioning the word of forced labor directly and used BCI suspension to clarify that they have not been involved in the forced labors.
This BCI point was a trove to the Chinese counterattack. One of their articles are tilled as“良棉协会”为何要抹黑新疆棉花 背后有何不可告人目的 ; ” Better Cotton Initiative” why have they blacklisted Xinjiang cotton and what is a target of calumniators behind?
In China, the same news is circulated around the media, especially when it is administratively created to manipulate the public opinion. The Chinese government fiercely attacked the global apparel players at this Xinjiang cotton, claiming there is no factual base of forced labors at the cotton picking.
We can see the same issue discussed in the Chinse TV titled as 白棉花为何上了“黑名单” | CCTV「焦点访谈」20210327; Why is white cotton blacklisted? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DFpOXBd4A0Chinese
Chinse assert is quite clear that 70% of Xinjiang cotton cultivation is conducted by faming machines, not by manual picking, and there is no discrimination based on the racial profile.
In my understanding, their claims are highly likely true. 30% of Xinjiang cotton was cultivated manually, though the majority of which are conducted by the small family business. The big farmers have hired seasonally workers to reap cottons, though there is likely no discrimination between Uyghurs and “Han” Chinese labors, treated in the same manner.
Their labor contract is supposed to be not good, but not extremely bad. In the news linked above, one of the farm owners has answered in the interview above that they follow the administrative rule for hiring seasonal farming labor. The Chinese government has well understood the poorness of seasonal farming labor and set the minimum rule to protect them, which is still below the global standard, though this itself is a focal point.
One of the BCI goals is to elevate the living standard of the cotton farmers and there is a contradiction at this very point. The Chinese government can go back to the old discussion that the developing China needs more time to conquer the poor and to elevate the living standard of their people. And, they can say that their goal should be the same in the end, even if the current working condition is far from their targets.
In this way, the Chinese government can win this battle that there is no forced labor in the cotton picking or it might end up with how to improve the living standard of the Chinese seasonal farming labors. We are lost at the cotton field, deflecting the focus in the Chinese way.
Timeline of controversies
It is necessary to go back to the timeline for entangling the Chinese tactics. The current focal point, BCI Xinjiang cotton is an old issue though still outstandingly excluded from the global market, as BCI has suspended Xinjiang cotton for years, dated back to 2018.
The global apparel players made statements about Uyghur forced labor case in 2020, which was actually not related to the BCI case. It was issued by the research conducted by Australian Strategic Policy Institute, titled as “Uyghurs for sale”.
The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale
There are two main points of their research, one of which is that Uyghurs are transferred from Xinjiang to different regions under forced labors. Their report estimates 80,000 Uyghurs are transferred under the re-education program. The other issue is that those people are forced to work in the supply-chain of global brands, some of those are named above. In terms of the apparel industry, Gap and Nike were named in the report.
Nike is also one of Chinese targets in the recent attack related to Xinjiang cotton, while their statement is a little different from H&M’s release.
We have been conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential forced labor risks related to employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities from XUAR, in other parts of China. Based on evolving information, we strengthened our audit protocols to identify emerging risks related to potential labor transfer programs. Our ongoing diligence has not found evidence of employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities from XUAR, elsewhere in our supply chain.https://purpose.nike.com/statement-on-xinjiang
NIKE did not mention BCI in this matter, rather to clarify the audit about potential forced labor risk in their supply-chain. Actually, their response was more straight-forward that they asked their suppliers to send back Uyghurs home, according to the RFA interview.
“When reports of the situation in XUAR began to surface last year we engaged with management at Taekwang’s Qingdao factory, in consultation with industry experts, as they evaluated their employment of migrant workers from the region,” Nike said in a statement emailed to RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“Taekwang subsequently stopped recruiting new employees from XUAR to its Qingdao facility in 2019 and has confirmed that all remaining employees from XUAR have now returned home.”https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/nike-07212020174533.html
This RFA news was dated on July 21, 2020 and this was a forced labor issue of Uyghurs not necessarily in Xinjiang. Uyghurs have been transferred to other regions for forced labors in textile factories. NIKE mentioned Retail Industry Leader Association (RILA) in the statement, which actually earlier released a joint-statement on March 10, 2020.
We are deeply concerned by reports of forced labor and the treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority workers in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and elsewhere in China. The reported situation is of a scale, scope, and complexity that is unprecedented during the modern era of global supply chains.https://www.rila.org/focus-areas/public-policy/statement-on-reports-of-forced-labor-in-xinjiang
H&M release was likely in October 2020, later than RILA and NIKE, though they were unique to mention BCI Xinjiang cotton suspension, indicating they are unrelated to those issues discussed above. It is assumed that they avoided a direct confrontation to name forced labors or the report from Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The Uyghur problem got deepened in February 2021 and BBC was kicked out of China, although it is quite hard to point out their Uyghur report was the main reason for their deportation. BBC reported a Xinjiang case on February 2, 2021, titled as ‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape
This report should be one of the reasons, though the UK government banned Chinese national media CGTN precedently and BBC was kicked out as a response. It basically means the Chinese government found a good reason to exclude the BBC report sensitive to their interest.
Around the same time, the US president Joe Biden and the Chinese president had a remote summit on February 10, 2021. As shown below, the US raised an issue of human rights abused in Xinjiang.
President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/10/readout-of-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-call-with-president-xi-jinping-of-china/
The Chinese government needed to fight back the Xinjiang problem more than claiming it is a domestic problem, as human rights are more like treated as global problems. Their answer was a cotton picking to claim that there is no underline fact at BCI Xinjiang cotton suspension.
I could not find an original allegation of BCI Xinjiang cotton, but it is likely not related to the forced labor, rather malpractice or labor exploitation. Moreover, their suspension was placed due to a difficulty of due diligence, not based on profound findings.
This is an easy battleground for the Chinese government. As China reported, 70% of Xinjiang cotton was cultivated by farming machines, not by manual labors. They have hired Uyghurs for seasonal farming labors, though there is no incentive for the employers to discriminate against them over “Han” Chinese. In this specific field, the forced Uyghur labors are rarely to be found.
We should also be known the fact that Chinese seasonal farmers have worked in the very poor conditions across China. Their working condition is not livable, just continued for weeks to earn additional income, and importantly, it has been improved through the time due to the governmental intervention.
In the Western standpoint, this practice might look like not good, but that is actually a point of the Chinese government. They can defend themselves that China is still developing and work hard to improve the living standard of their people. In this course of discussion, it is highly likely for the Chinese government to arouse the support from their people, because they know the Chinese peripheral farmers are poor but their government has made efforts to tackle those poorness.
That is why the Chinese government believes this is a battleground to win, deflecting from the real Xinjiang problem.
Back to the focus
Brainwash is a word coming from China. During the Korean War, American soldiers were captured and brainwashed to believe the Chinese propaganda, whose process was called as “Brainwash”. Actually, the same manipulation was conducted against Japanese soldiers captured by the Chinese Communist Party after World War II.
I could not track down how the word “Brainwash” was created, though it is not a traditional word, but highly likely created by CCP. It might come from 洗牌 Xipai, the term used in Mahjong. It is quite similar to the shuffle of playing cards that we need to shuffle all the tiles to restart each game. This Xipai literally means wash the tile.
There is one well-known trick that some of cheaters can slip their favorite tiles into the place where they can pick. In this way, they can manipulate their game for their favors. So, it goes from reshuffling the old ideas to new ones and slipping some tricks into their favors; this is actually how the brainwash works.
The Chinese government is smart and do not underestimate their capability. The propaganda is one of their specialties and they have run this strategy for a long time against their people or in their power struggle. They are more sophisticated in this field.
The focal point is not how the cotton picking is conducted in Xinjiang, but how the Uyghur and Xinjiang are treated by the Chinese government. Do not fight the battle by the Chinese rule as they have chosen a battleground where they believe they can win.