Updated 8 Feb 2020, 8:38am
A Chinese company that owns farmland in the Northern Territory has been cooperating with a controversial “political indoctrination” program in China’s far-western Xinjiang region, where more than 1 million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been detained in camps.
- The company Xinjiang Yikang owns Florina station in Katherine
- It is involved in a Beijing-led “village visiting” program in Xinjiang
- Experts say the visits aim to politically indoctrinate and surveil Uyghurs
Chinese agriculture company Xinjiang Yikang purchased Florina station in Katherine in 2016 under a subsidiary directed by chairman Hu Xiaolun and his son named YK Group.
At the time, the company said it intended to grow 5,000 hectares of cotton, but the plan has since been put on hold because of water licencing issues.
Meanwhile, an article published on a Chinese local government website cited Mr Hu giving a speech during a so-called “Fanghuiju visit” in Xinjiang.
The visits are a Beijing-led initiative where Communist Party cadres visit small villages in the north-western region, delivering political speeches and donations to the Uyghur people who live there.
They have been condemned by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which says the visits are aimed at “[surveilling] people and [subjecting] them to political propaganda”.
The ABC is not alleging any employees at Florina station are involved in Xinjiang Yikang’s operations in China, including the visits to Uyghur villages.
“[Fanghuiju visits] are problematic because they represent part of the government’s broader campaign to engineer people in that region, to become loyal subjects of the Chinese Community Party (CCP),” HRW researcher Maya Wang told the ABC.
“It is a package that includes both a donation [to villagers] and political indoctrination that includes speeches, and clear indication that people should be loyal to the Party.
“These visits [reinforce to Uyghurs] the message: they need to change, they have no choice and they need to be re-engineered to something else.”
Many countries, including Australia, have criticised China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, who have been subjected to arbitrary detention and mass surveillance.
Xinjiang Yikang did not respond to multiple requests for comment on their involvement in the Fanghuiju visits program.
Company also involved in controversial ‘poverty alleviation’
Xinjiang Yikang’s website also said it employed poor workers from villages in Aksu prefecture — a major agriculture and textiles hub in Xinjiang — as part of a Chinese Government-led poverty alleviation policy.
German academic Adrian Zenz, who has been credited with helping uncover the network of detention camps in Xinjiang, has previously done research on these anti-poverty programs.
He says in most cases they are aimed at socially controlling and surveilling Uyghurs.
“It makes people work in government-controlled environments where they can’t get Friday off to go to the mosque, where they can’t get down on their knees in order to pray,” he said, adding that employees also often had to move away from their families for work.
“It changes their traditional lifestyles, it changes their spiritual practices. It takes away their freedom because they’re being shifted around like pawns on a chess board,” he said.
Dr Zenz said it was common for companies to support these employment programs because they could receive significant subsidies from the government around tax, labour and electricity.
Xinjiang Yikang’s online records show it has established 13 companies since 2001, when it purchased the formerly state-owned Xinhe County Grain Bureau Fat Chemical Plant in southern Xinjiang.
It also owns shares in a company alongside the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a Beijing-controlled paramilitary organisation that governs a significant number of cities and agricultural land in Xinjiang.
Lianchao Han, the vice president of the pro-democracy NGO Citizen Power Initiatives for China, said Xinjiang Yikang’s rapid growth appeared to indicate it had close ties to the Chinese Government.
“[In 2014] according to the CEO, the company got about 1 billion yuan [$215 million] credit from China’s Agriculture Development Bank,” Dr Han told the ABC.