China is reportedly sending Tibetans to work in military-style labour training camps, echoing the persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang

Business Insider US
The White Tower at Potala Palace Square in Lhasa, Tibet, in September 19, 2020.
  • China is rounding up Tibetan farmers, sending them to military-style camps, and putting them to work in industry, according to a Reuters report.
  • Workers are taught "discipline" and "gratitude" to reform "backward thinking," according to government documents seen by Reuters and a report from Adrian Zenz,, a researcher at The Jamestown Foundation. 
  • The scheme started in 2016 but has accelerated in 2020, with 15% of the Tibetan population already passing through the facilities so far in 2020.
  • The program echoes that seen in Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims are brainwashed and made to work on factory production lines.
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China is rounding up hundreds of thousands of rural Tibetans and sending them to harsh training centers similar to those used to detain Uighurs Muslims in Xinjiang, according to a Reuters investigation.

This year China accelerated a plan to train up and relocate Tibet's "rural surplus labourers" to parts of China or Tibet that need of increased manufacturing capacity. 

At the "military-style" training centers workers are taught "work discipline" and "gratitude" to reform "backward thinking," according to official Chinese and Tibetan government documents seen by Reuters and a report from Adrian Zenz, a researcher at The Jamestown Foundation. 

The first signs of the program appeared in 2005 and became a mainstay in 2016. Now, the scheme is racing ahead, with 15% of Tibet's population earmarked for the camps in 2020 alone, Reuters and Zenz found.

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese state media has covered the program in detail, with Beijing framing it as a way to eradicate poverty.

Between January and July this year, 543,000 Tibetans were sent to the labour training camps, Zenz said, adding that this was already over 90% of the region's annual goal.

Around 50,000 of these people were then sent from the training camps to work on various projects in Tibet, and 3,000 to other places in China, Zenz said.

"This is now, in my opinion, the strongest, most clear and targeted attack on traditional Tibetan livelihoods that we have seen almost since the Cultural Revolution," Zenz told Reuters.

One such facility identified by Zenz is the "Chamdo Golden Sunshine Vocational Training School" in Eluo Town, Tibet.

The program has been compared to that imposed on Uighur Muslims in China's western province of Xinjiang since 2016.

Chen Quanguo, the man who led the project to surveil and detain Uighurs in Xinjiang in 2016, is also one of the masterminds of the scheme in Tibet, Reuters reported.

In Xinjiang, at least one million Uighurs and other ethnic groups are interned in as many as 500 camps where they are brainwashed, forced to work on production lines for little, and made to adopt Chinese culture.

China is also attempting to slash the Uighur birthrate, with former detainees and medical professionals in the region telling the media that forced sterilisations, abortions, and birth control treatments are commonplace.

Birth rates in Xinjiang plunged by nearly a third in 2018, but China claimed that it is not forcing sterilisations.

Last week, the US banned the import of certain cotton products made in Xinjiang after accusations they were made using forced labor at the camps. In July 2019, the US blacklisted several Chinese companies based in Xinjiang over human-rights abuses. 

However, Zenz noted that the programs and facilities in Xinjiang and Tibet are not identical.

It appears that the scheme is Tibet is more voluntary, Zenz wrote, adding: "There is no evidence that the TAR's scheme is linked to extrajudicial internment," using an acronym for the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the area's official name.

"However, in a system where the transition between securitization and poverty alleviation is seamless, there is no telling where coercion stops and where genuinely voluntary local agency begins," he added.

"In the context of Beijing's increasingly assimilatory ethnic minority policy, it is likely that these policies will promote a long-term loss of linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage."

What the camps have in common, Zenz wrote, is a "militarised training process that involves thought transformation, patriotic and legal education, and Chinese language teaching."

China invaded Tibet in 1949 and has since claimed ownership of the region. China's foreign ministry told Reuters that it denied claims of forced labor in Tibet.

"What these people with ulterior motives are calling 'forced labor' simply does not exist. We hope the international community will distinguish right from wrong, respect facts, and not be fooled by lies," the ministry said.

China has been on a crusade to homogenize its language and culture for years, and has imposed policies that would effectively eradicate the heritage of other ethnic groups, like the Uighurs and Tibetans.

Last month China imposed a policy in Inner Mongolia, a Chinese region, that cut down on the number of Mongolian-language education in favor of more Mandarin Chinese classes. Local parents have protested by keeping their children from attending school.

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