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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief 2019

Syria

  • The U.S. and Turkey agreed to a five-day ceasefire in northern Syria, in exchange for the U.S. dropping new sanctions on Turkey, and the Kurds evacuating a 30 km border area. However, reports say the fighting continues all the same.
  • The Kurds accused Turkey of using napalm and white phosphorus against them, which isn’t necessarily a war crime, but could violate the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons if used against civilians, in civilian areas, or under several other conditions.

China

  • A decent WSJ op-ed by a former Chinese political prisoner—who’s now an activist—accused China of forcing Muslim prisoners in Xinjiang to work in a “cotton gulag” that makes a significant share of China’s exported apparel. Article pasted below.

Brexit

  • The NYT points out that PM Johnson’s proposed Brexit deal is “at the extreme end of possible divorce settlements between Britain and the E.U., with no promise of alignment in commerce and trade, with the exception of Northern Ireland.” That said, it may be the best he could do at this point.
  • Northern Irish unionists feel betrayed by Johnson’s proposal, though, and their Democratic Unionist Party leaders in Parliament may kill the deal in tomorrow’s vote.

Mexico

  • The Mexican police, army, and National Guard attempted to arrest El Chapo’s son in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, and sparked a huge gun battle that ended with government forces withdrawing. Officials wouldn’t say whether their target, Ovidio Guzmán López, was arrested or not—media reports say he remains free…and some think he had inside help escaping.

Afghanistan

  • The UN Mission in Afghanistan reported record high civilian casualties in Q3 2019, and said July was the deadliest month for civilians in Afghanistan since they started keeping track in 2009.
  • A bomb in a mosque in Haska Mina, Nangarhar killed at least 17 people. Neither IS nor the Taliban has claimed the attack yet.

Yemen

  • Yemen saw record-high civilian casualties in September, but UN officials say the tide is turning towards calm in both the rebel-controlled north and Aden, with all parties seeming increasingly willing to talk.

Venezuela

  • Venezuela was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, which Human Rights Watch called: “slap in the face to the country’s countless victims who’ve been tortured and murdered by government forces.”
  • Other upstanding members of the UNHRC include DRC, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan. The U.S. quit the Council in 2018, over its bias against Israel and acceptance of human rights abusers like these.

Libya

  • Gunmen raided two upscale seafront cafes in Tripoli to evict any unmarried couples on improprietous dates. They reportedly gave the men a stern talking to, and then let them go pay the bill and leave.
  • There’s technically no law against this kind of comingling, but the vigilante raid reflects a rise in hardline Salafism in Libya. Several other cafes said they would ban unmarried couples from entering to avoid raids.

U.S.

  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry—who faces criticism for his role in Pres. Trump’s dealings with the Ukraine—announced that he’ll step down and return to his “favorite place in the world,” Texas. An insider said he’d been planning to leave for months, and his resignation has nothing to do with the Ukraine inquiry.
  • The U.S. will host the 2020 G7 Summit at Trump’s Doral Resort, which Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said would be “millions of dollars cheaper” than alternative sites. Trump’s critics accuse him of trying to profit from the event.
  • GM’s 50,000 striking workers will vote on the tentative agreement UAW struck with GM, but their strike will continue for at least eight more days as they hold the vote.

Did a Muslim Slave Make Your Chinese Shirt? A look inside the ‘cotton gulag’ in Xinjiang province. (NYT)

By Jianli Yang and Lianchao Han

Mr. Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and a former political prisoner in China. Mr. Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection accuses Hetian Taida Apparel Co. in China’s Xinjiang province of using forced or prison labor, and last month the agency banned U.S. imports of the company’s garments. It’s a first step, but the U.S. should go much further. China, the world’s largest cotton producer, has built the world’s largest prison system to provide the labor needed to sustain cotton production.

This cotton gulag is primarily based in Xinjiang, home to most of China’s Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups. As China continues its mass incarceration of Muslims and expands the vertical integration of its cotton supply chain, a storm brews in Xinjiang that threatens China’s dominance of the global cotton and apparel sectors.

Our organization, Citizen Power Initiatives for China, has released a report titled “Cotton: The Fabric Full of Lies,” using direct evidence from data published by the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese companies and witness testimony to prove that prisons and re-education camps in the region are forcing inmates to work in China’s cotton supply chain.

This report documents the modern slavery that distorts free trade, violates international labor standards and seriously violates human rights. Like the Soviet gulags, this penal system banishes inmates to a remote region and punishes them with hard labor, all while making money for the state.

It is China’s longstanding policy to use prison inmates for forced labor, and ever since the Communist Party took power in 1949 it has shipped prisoners from elsewhere in China to Xinjiang to do hard labor and “contribute to Xinjiang’s economic development” in the harsh desert environment. Xinjiang now has the highest percentage of prisoners per capita in China. Excluding Uighur re-education camps, there are some 75 prisons in Xinjiang (population 22 million) compared with fewer than 30 in Shandong province (99 million).

In 2014 the Chinese government implemented a strategy to suppress Uighurs in Xinjiang even more. It involves the detention of large numbers of Uighurs in so-called re-education camps or vocational training centers, intended to cleanse them of their ethnic identity and make them loyal to the Communist Party. Observers estimate that China has detained more than one million Uighurs in this system.

Simultaneously, the government launched an initiative to spur the vertical integration of China’s garment manufacturing sector by moving textile and garment factories closer to cotton production in Xinjiang, where Uighurs can be used for employment. The Chinese government has provided textile and apparel companies with forced labor from re-education camps to work in their Xinjiang production facilities.

Since 2014 some 2,200 new cotton and apparel companies have been set up to participate in the vertical-integration program. Some boast that they are suppliers for major international brands. As of 2018 China documented the employment of 450,000 new Uighur workers from impoverished households, relatives of the convicted and detained, and re-education camp inmates.

Wu Hongbo, chairman of Hatian Taida, confirmed to the Associated Press last December that the company has a factory inside what the government calls a “vocational skills education and training center.” Mr. Wu said, “We’re making our contribution to eradicating poverty.” The AP reported that “a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused the foreign media Monday of making ‘many untrue reports’ about the training centers, but did not specify when asked for details.”

The forced-labor economy appears designed to meet two goals: earn money for the state and politically “stabilize” Xinjiang through economic performance to legitimize Communist rule over the region. Inmates in Xinjiang prisons serve as a key labor force in the cotton value chain, from cotton-field reclamation and construction of irrigation systems to planting, harvesting, processing and garment production. Prison and labor-camp authorities in Xinjiang have deleted online information regarding these prison companies and factories, changed the names of prison factories and created layers of complex company ownership to disguise prison factories as farms and trading companies.

While prison and labor camps are the traditional means of control, China has also begun perfecting a new model of imprisonment. Beijing has deployed the most expansive and intrusive surveillance system in the world in Xinjiang, making the province essentially an open-air prison. Companies sourcing from China can’t effectively audit their suppliers. China doesn’t need to rely on barbed wire to enslave workers when they have blanketed cities with facial-recognition cameras and sophisticated voice-recognition technology to keep track of residents.

The U.S. has the world’s most stringent law—the Tariff Act of 1930—to protect against the importation of goods made with forced labor. It is little enforced, as evidence can be hard to verify. But the evidence is clear when it comes to Xinjiang, where forced labor is ubiquitous. Since Xinjiang is by far the largest supplier of China’s apparel supply chain, Western governments, companies and consumers should assume that any cotton products made in China are a product of the cotton gulag.

It is time to stop this modern slavery. We urge the U.S. government to enforce the ban on the importation of forced labor goods by banning all cotton, textile and apparel products from China.

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