500,000 Tibetans Forced Into Work Camps

A new report published by the Jamestown Foundation presents evidence of mass transfers of Tibetans to military-style training centres. China seized control of Tibet in 1950, effectively threatening religious and cultural practices. Over 500,000 “rural surplus labourers” received retraining during the first seven months of 2020. The “surplus” is seemingly comprised of farmers and herders, workers who represent traditional Tibetan livelihoods and nomadic culture. Reuters backed the claims included in the report.

Although training centres were established as early as 2005, transfer quotas were introduced in 2020. A failure to meet the quotas will result in unspecified punishments. According to a notice posted to the regional government website, as of July, 90.5% of the annual target was already met. The program acceleration has been attributed to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2020. The trainees are given vocational instruction, disrupting existing economic systems. The training is intended to shift the Tibetan population into wage labour and is based on company needs. The instruction individuals receive at the centres is determined by a pre-arranged job placement.

Approximately 50,000 Tibetans have been transferred into jobs throughout Tibet and other Chinese provinces, following the completion of the training program. Agents and companies responsible for the transfers of Tibetans receive subsidies for relocation. Notably, greater subsidies are offered for job transfers outside of Tibet. Although the relocations are characterized as voluntary, according to human rights groups, Tibetan workers are presumably unable to refuse the job placements. The work is likely low paid. Many Tibetans enter textile manufacturing, construction and the agricultural industry.

The training centres emphasize ideological indoctrination, aimed to produce workers loyal to Chinese industry. A policy document from 2018 calls for measures to eliminate “lazy people.” Tibetan labourers receive instruction in work discipline, law and the Chinese language. Minorities are perceived by the Chinese government as lacking discipline, and an unwillingness to work. Therefore Tibetan peoples receive education to correct “can’t do, don’t want to do and don’t dare to do” attitudes towards labour. In order to promote discipline and conformity, trainees wear uniforms and participate in military drills. Militaristic language is frequently used, describing poverty alleviation as a “battlefield.” The military-style of training and government quotas are both indicative of coercion.

The Tibetan labour program reflects policies imposed throughout Xinjiang. Both regions are primarily populated by religious minorities, Buddhists and Uighur Muslims respectively. According to UN reports, one million people in Xinjiang, primarily ethnic Uighurs, are detained in labour camps in order to receive ideological training. Although many Tibetans remain dedicated to Buddhism, religious practices are restricted. Religion is perceived as a negative influence on minorities, promoting passivity. As a result, the training is intended as a means of diminishing the significance of religion and traditions, which will likely promote a “long-term loss of linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage.”