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Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: Chinese Companies’ Vanishing Acts in Xinjiang

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Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: Chinese Companies’ Vanishing Acts in Xinjiang

There is a recurring pattern of Chinese firms attempting to hide branches in the Uyghur region, seeking to avoid association with human rights abuses. 

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: Chinese Companies’ Vanishing Acts in Xinjiang

In this Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region.

Credit: AP Photo/Ng Han Gua

Lately, we’re seeing more and more examples of official Chinese doublespeak. At home, China wants to tout certain policies, while abroad Beijing changes its tune, realizing its actions will face a less receptive audience.

That explains Beijing’s amazing turnaround regarding the Xinjiang camps. At first, Chinese officials denied their existence outright. In late 2018, overwhelmed by the evidence, the Chinese government admitted having built “vocational training schools” (why these schools were surrounded by barbed wire was never answered). Chinese authorities even built a few fake camps to host gullible media.

One lesser-known and rather curious example of this new doublespeak is playing out, once again centered on Xinjiang, the Uyghur region in westernmost China.

The Chinese government requires pop artists and others to stand up and praise its policies in Xinjiang. Artists were even made to denounce H&M and other clothing firms for boycotting Xinjiang cotton. Which they are, thankfully, because forced labor is huge in Xinjiang and there is no way to make sure products made there would not be tainted by it.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies in multiple industries are flocking to profit from government-provided free labor – and boost their nationalistic bona fides to boot. Yet Chinese companies producing things in Xinjiang want to keep their role there secret from foreign partners and especially foreign media. Otherwise, there could be bothersome inquiries about forced labor and human rights, because the world has heard about what’s going on in Xinjiang.

The situation is grim: The Chinese government is orchestrating the mass use of forced labor, deploying detainees from the infamous identity transformation camps first started up in 2017. Since 2019 or so, able-bodied detainees have been sent on to forced labor; meanwhile, elderly, unfit, or problematic detainees are passed on to prison (about 500,000 so far). Up to a million children are reported to be segregated into Chinese boarding schools, where they are isolated and forced to forget their language and culture.

All this won’t stop until “you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese” – until “all Muslim nationalities are extinct,” one former prisoner remembers his captors telling him. In short, it’s a cultural genocide, with Uyghur identity being wiped out, and the forced labor is an integrated part of the master plan.

Against that horrific backdrop, just recently, a large Chinese battery maker, Shanghai-based Putailai (PTL), announced a decision to make a large investment in Sweden. PTL plans to build a factory in the small town of Torsboda near Timrå in northern Sweden, creating 1,900 jobs (of which perhaps 75 percent will go to locals, they added).

But PTL conveniently “forgot” to tell their Swedish partners that they have a subsidiary in Xinjiang, where a huge output of battery components is also planned. Its name is Xinjiang Zichen Tianshan New Material Technology Co., Ltd. (新疆紫宸天山新材料科技有限公司), located at Avenue 18-168, Huyanghe City. The area is under the administrative care of the Seventh Division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, the XPCC, or “Bingtuan,” the main military entity promoting China’s settler colonialism and exploitation of the resources of the region.

PTL’s scheming even fooled BusinessSweden, an entity supposed to have vetted the whole thing. Perhaps they only glanced at the company reports, where the word “Xinjiang” does not appear. True, the subsidiary does not show up on the official company map, but it can easily be found online. Its contact email address even ends in, the company’s official domain.

I published an article in Swedish to draw attention to what was happening. This put the Swedish hosts in a bind, as they haphazardly relayed conflicting information from PTL: No such branch, the project manager said; it’s going to be sold anyway, the local mayor claimed. (Such transactions are apparently commonly done, to shield the real owners of Xinjiang assets.)

Then Swedish Radio journalists not only confirmed the existence of the subsidiary as I had described, but they also found several current ads on job sites in China, seeking managers for it.

One desperate local Swedish politician, eager to be able to claim credit for job opportunities gained, even said: “It does not matter where the money comes from” – as if modern slavery sponsored by the state is not a big deal.

Some Swedish managers, politicians, and China consultants are also still throwing around the old chestnut about “private companies” in China as something apart from the party-state. Anyone following Chinese affairs knows this is not true, especially not after the new security law of 2017, obligating every Chinese citizen to obey the state, help state agencies gather intelligence, and keep such work secret (from the targeted foreigners).

In a recent separate case, Sweden’s Vattenfall, a major energy supplier, awarded a Chinese contract for new remote-control power meters. A supposedly “rigorous” vetting process concluded, among other things, that the Chinese company was “not closely affiliated with the ruling Communist Party.” But Swedish Television immediately found, through simple internet searches, that the owner himself is a longstanding Communist Party member and a delegate, since 2013, in the National People’s Congress. Vattenfall’s comment: “Oh.

This lingering Swedish naivete can seem to have no limits. Just the other day, a researcher warned about Volvo cars, some of which are still made in Sweden – but the company is now Chinese owned. If you are driving a Volvo, you must not discuss any secrets in it, the researcher said. Chinese officials might be eavesdropping.

The list goes on: Sweden’s trains, and the capital’s subway, are also Chinese owned – by MTR, the rail firm that infamously helped curb protests in Hong Kong. You would think Sweden should do better — the Chinese government is still detaining our own citizen Gui Minhai, whom they kidnapped to shut down his Hong Kong bookstore.

Yet the Chinese investments in the battery industry present a different kind of danger: A Chinese long-term monopoly on future “green” industries could be used for blackmail and domination. With the Torsboda investment, Sweden will be permanently abetting not only forced labor and human rights abuses in Xinjiang, but also China’s master plan to dominate those “green” industries.

Swedish and European policymaking is now attempting to address these issues, but risks being too little, too late – especially if it focuses only on the issue of how jobs-hungry local autonomy clashes with national security, narrowly conceived to exclude things like our planet’s future and universal human rights.

With Xinjiang and with China more broadly, the risk is not just that the Communist Party can access a microphone in your car. It’s that they will take your voice away.