'If the others go I'll go': Inside China's scheme to transfer Uighurs into work
China's policy of transferring hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to new jobs often far from home is leading to a thinning out of their populations, according to a high-level Chinese study seen by the BBC.
The government denies that it is attempting to alter the demographics of its far-western region and says the job transfers are designed to raise incomes and alleviate chronic rural unemployment and poverty.
But our evidence suggests that - alongside the re-education camps built across Xinjiang in recent years - the policy involves a high risk of coercion and is similarly designed to assimilate minorities by changing their lifestyles and thinking.
The study, which was meant for the eyes of senior officials but accidentally placed online, forms part of a BBC investigation based on propaganda reports, interviews, and visits to factories across China.
And we ask questions about the possible connections between transferred Uighur labour and two major western brands, as international concern mounts over the extent to which it is already ingrained in global supply chains.
In a village in southern Xinjiang, hay is being gathered in the fields and families are placing fruit and flatbreads on their supas, the low platforms around which Uighur family life has traditionally revolved.
But the warm wind blowing across the Taklamakan desert is bringing with it worry and change.
The video report, broadcast by China's Communist Party-run news channel, shows a group of officials in the centre of the village, sitting under a red banner advertising jobs in Anhui Province, 4,000km away.
After two full days, the reporter's narration says, not a single person from the village has come forward to sign up, and so the officials begin moving from house to house.
What follows is some of the most compelling footage of China's massive campaign to transfer Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities in Xinjiang into factory and manual labouring jobs, often considerable distances from their homes.
Although it was broadcast in 2017, around the time the policy began to be intensified, the video has not featured in international news reporting until now.
The officials speak to one father who is clearly reluctant to send his daughter, Buzaynap, so far away.
"There must be someone else who'd like to go," he tries to plead. "We can make our living here, let us live a life like this."
They speak directly to 19-year old Buzaynap, telling her that, if she stays she will be married soon and never able to leave.
"Have a think, will you go?" they ask.
Under the intense scrutiny of the government officials and state-TV journalists she shakes her head and replies, "I won't go."
Still, the pressure continues until eventually, weeping, she concedes.
"I'll go if others go," she says.
The film ends with tearful goodbyes between mothers and daughters as Buzaynap and other similarly "mobilised" recruits leave their family and culture behind.
Professor Laura Murphy is an expert in human rights and contemporary slavery at the UK's Sheffield Hallam University who lived in Xinjiang between 2004 and 2005 and has visited since.
"This video is remarkable," she told the BBC.
"The Chinese government continually says that people are volunteering to engage in these programmes, but this absolutely reveals that this is a system of coercion that people are not allowed to resist."
"The other thing it shows is this ulterior motive," she said, "that although the narrative is one of lifting people out of poverty, there's a drive to entirely change people's lives, to separate families, disperse the population, change their language, their culture, their family structures, which is more likely to increase poverty than to decrease it."
A marked shift in China's approach to its governance of Xinjiang can be traced back to two brutal attacks on pedestrians and commuters - in Beijing in 2013 and the city of Kunming in 2014 - which it blamed on Uighur Islamists and separatists.
At the heart of its response - in both the camps and the work transfer schemes - has been a drive to replace "old" Uighur loyalties to culture and the Islamic faith with a "modern" materialist identity and an enforced allegiance to the Communist Party.
This overarching goal of assimilating Uighurs into China's majority Han culture is made clear by an in-depth Chinese study of Xinjiang's job-transfer scheme, circulated to senior Chinese officials and seen by the BBC.
Based on field work conducted in Xinjiang's Hotan Prefecture in May 2018, the report was inadvertently made publicly available online in December 2019 and then subsequently taken down a few months later.
Written by a group of academics from Nankai University in the Chinese city of Tianjin, it concludes that the mass labour transfers are "an important method to influence, meld and assimilate Uighur minorities" and bring about a "transformation of their thinking."
Uprooting them and relocating them elsewhere in the region or in other Chinese provinces, it says, "reduces Uighur population density."
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