China’s Top Diplomat Threatens Companies Spooked by Uyghur Slavery: Divesting a ‘Historical Mistake’

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a speech at the Munich Security Conference this weekend partially focused on discouraging Western businesses from seeking to invest elsewhere to avoid funding China’s extensive list of ongoing human rights atrocities, warning that divesting from China would be “a historical mistake.”

Wang attended the conference, meant primarily to discuss wars and threats of conflict erupting in hotspots around the world, shortly after the publication of a bombshell report in Germany implicating the automaker Volkswagen yet again in profiting from slavery in China. This time, the German newspaper Handelsblatt and human rights researcher Adrian Zenz revealed evidence, including photos of the apparent slaves, indicating that a test track built in occupied East Turkistan by Voklwagen and the Chinese car company SAIC was the product of Uyghur slavery.

Volkswagen responded to the report by stating that it would finally reconsider business operations in the Uyghur heartland in light of the new evidence. Shortly after the publication of the Handelsblatt reported, Volkswagen issued a statement saying “various scenarios are currently being examined intensively” regarding “the future direction of the [joint venture with SAIC]’s business activities in East Turkistan (Xinjiang).

The Chinese Communist Party has been conducting a genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in East Turkistan, since at least 2017. Dictator Xi Jinping is believed to have imprisoned as many as 3 million people in concentration camps, where survivors say they were indoctrinated, enslaved, and subject to extreme torture, including electroshock and gang rape. Beijing claims that the concentration camps are “vocational and educational training centers” and by 2019 claimed most victims had “graduated” from the camps.

The “graduates” were shipped across the country to work as slaves in cotton fields, factories, and, reportedly, projects like the Volkswagen test track.

Volkswagen is far from the only company implicated in Chinese slave labor. In 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published its landmark report Uyghurs for Sale that found evidence of 83 global household-name companies using Chinese supplier factories that benefitted from Uyghurs slavery. In addition to Volkswagen, companies such as Apple, Nintendo, and BMW appeared on that list.

More recently, on Wednesday, the Financial Times reported, citing anonymous sources, that American customs officials had impounded thousands of vehicles tied to a Volkswagen parent group using Chinese suppliers.

“Thousands of Porsche, Bentley and Audi cars have been impounded in US ports after a supplier to parent group Volkswagen found a Chinese subcomponent in the vehicles that breached anti-forced labour laws,” the magazine relayed. “The issue affects about 1,000 Porsche sports cars and SUVs, several hundred Bentleys, and several thousand Audi vehicles, according to people briefed on the details.”

China regularly hosts friendly delegations of Islamic organizations and pro-communist journalists in East Turkistan, ignoring visa applications from conservative, skeptical, or authentic human rights voices.

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