In what appears to replicate what’s happening in China’s Xinjiang region to Uighur Muslims, a new report from the Jamestown Foundation, corroborated by Reuters, details evidence of a vast program in a remote region of Tibet aimed at promoting Chinese national unity and patriotism, instilling “work discipline,” and eradicating what the Chinese Communist Party refers to as “backward thinking” by the Tibetan people. 

According to evidence uncovered by researcher Adrian Zenz of the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, China relocated more than 500,000 “rural surplus workers” in Tibet in the first seven months of 2020 into military-style facilities and “re-education centers” to train them as factory workers for areas of the country in need of manufacturing output. 

China has defended the program as part of its ambitious poverty alleviation plan under President Xi Jinping, but documents examined by Zenz as part of his research reveal parallels to the detention centers where as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang are being interned. 

According to Zenz’s report, workers in the camps are subject to centralized “military-style” vocational training involving “thought transformation, Chinese language study, and patriotic and legal education.” Beijing insists the camps are vocational schools necessary to counter religious extremism and terrorism from separatist minority groups. 

The new findings are thought to confirm the Chinese Communist Party’s assimilative ethnic-minority policy and all-out propaganda efforts to “nationalize” what it sees as “reticent” minority groups. 

While the mass labor program in Tibet is said to be less oppressive than the program in Xinjiang, both schemes involve “the systemic presence of numerous coercive elements,” Zenz wrote.

The parallels include the use of state-mandated quotas for the mass transfer of rural workers within Tibet; reliance on military-style training, discipline, and obedience drilling; the inculcation of Chinese “traditional” values at the expense of the group’s culture and identity; and an effort to weaken the “perceived negative influence of religion.”

Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst in national security and human rights challenges in Asia at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said, “New reports of a forced labor scheme in Tibet are reminiscent of the early reports out of Xinjiang and bear hallmarks of the Cultural Revolution.”

The Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 was a decadelong period of political and social unrest spurred by Mao Zedong’s efforts to reassert his control of China’s Communist Party.

“It is no surprise that President Xi would seek to subjugate populations in Tibet. Reports of religious persecution have long come from that region, including actions that resulted in the shutting down of major Buddhist monasteries, the displacement of Buddhist monks and nuns, and indoctrination, among other troubling trends,” Enos said.

“The [Chinese Communist Party] sees Tibet as a threat to its core foreign policy interests of maintaining internal stability and sovereignty, and will use that as a justification for subjugating the Tibetan peoples,” she continued.

Tibet has been governed as an autonomous region of China since 1965, but the recent encroachments by Beijing have called into question whether Tibetans’ right to self-government exists in name only.

When asked how the international community should respond to the allegations, Enos said, “The world should watch closely, because it was only just in 2017 that we started hearing reports of Uighurs in Xinjiang being collectivized and sent to camps. 

“Today, there are between 1.8 [million] and 3 million people in the camps. And reports, including my own, indicate they may be subject to genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Chinese Communist Party’s actions call for a strong response, Enos said, adding that the U.S. should prioritize human rights in the Indo-Pacific region by pressing its long-standing role as a defender of freedom and democracy there. 

“The U.S. should watch closely and ensure that goods produced with forced labor in either Xinjiang or Tibet do not make their way into U.S. supply chains. It should also strongly condemn the [Chinese Communist Party’s] behavior.”