Governments, including the Trump administration, have denounced ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, yet financial firms have done little
In the past few weeks, more reports have emerged that perhaps the most extensive ethnic cleansing since World War II is proceeding in the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
The Chinese Communist regime in Beijing is systematically wiping out the culture and religion of Uighur Muslims who can trace their history back thousands of years. Their methods are ruthless and brutal: More than a million Uighurs are interned in “re-education” camps where they have reported systematic violation of their religious practices and what we used to call “brainwashing” back in the Cold War days.
Governments, including the Trump administration, have taken steps to condemn and punish China. But corporate America, which has spent the past two months virtue signaling on race (we’ll see if that results in actually hiring and promoting more Black people), has done little, probably because many companies are joined at the hip with Beijing. A coalition of human-rights groups has published a list of major fashion brands it says depend on products made by forced labor from Uighurs.
And there’s been radio silence from Wall Street. For years, giant financial firms have viewed deeper involvement in China as a key strategic goal. That “market” of more than a billion potential clients has left them practically drooling, just as corporate chieftains did a generation ago. China’s government has doled out bits and pieces of access to its markets while maintaining tight control.
Investment banks are hungry for their slice of Chinese markets and deals. Until recently, U.S. exchanges pursued listings of Chinese stocks, but Congress is cracking down on companies rife with flim-flam accounting and fraud. Mutual-fund companies and financial advisers, stuck in the rote mindset of knee-jerk diversification, urge clients to invest more in underperforming Chinese and emerging markets equities. Index providers have accommodated them by raising the weighting of mainland Chinese stocks in their emerging markets and international indexes.
All of this throws a critical financial lifeline to a Chinese government that’s increasingly totalitarian, conducting high-tech surveillance on its own population even Orwell couldn’t have imagined and, late last month, undermining Hong Kong’s independence and democracy by imposing a harsh new national-security law.
But China’s initiative in Xinjiang is in a class by itself — and the next two paragraphs will be graphic and disturbing.
Uighur men are put in re-education camps, where their beards are shaven, they are made to eat pork, and they are forced to endure an endless loop of Chinese Communist slogans, songs and anti-religious indoctrination. “Every waking moment is an onslaught on their cherished beliefs and traditions,” writes Edward Lucas in a devastating article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. Torture, including sleep deprivation and electric shock, is common.
For women, it’s even worse. An AP investigation revealed the Chinese government is “taking draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population” through forced sterilization, abortion and implantation of intrauterine devices.
“Between 2015 and 2018, population growth rates in the Uighur heartland plummeted by 84%. Conversely, official documents show that sterilization rates skyrocketed in Xinjiang while plunging throughout the rest of China,” Foreign Policy magazine reported. “In 2018, 80% of all IUD placements in China were performed in Xinjiang despite accounting for a mere 1.8% of China’s population.”
Protests against this are growing. In the U.K., human-rights activist Maajid Nawaz went on a hunger strike to get the 100,000 signatures necessary to get Parliament to debate this issue. In late May the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to sanction Xinjiang Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo, who also presided over China’s ethnic cleansing in Tibet.
But not from corporate America or Wall Street. I emailed five big firms and two major index providers and asked whether they would “continue to deepen your business ties with China” in light of these developments. J.P. Morgan Chase JPM, -0.57%, Morgan Stanley MS, -0.40% and London Stock Exchange Group, which owns indexer FTSE Russell, declined to comment. Goldman Sachs GS, +1.12%, Bank of America BAC, +0.08%, BlackRock BLK, -1.53% and indexer MSCI MSCI, -2.03% didn’t respond to my email and a follow-up request.
Last week chilling videos, purportedly from drones in Xinjiang, emerged of bound, apparently Muslim men being loaded onto trains. Loaded onto trains. Distant relatives of mine, I’m told, were loaded onto trains in Poland and never came back, so this hits home for me.
We don’t know how many Uighurs have died in Xinjiang, but thus far this doesn’t appear to be the systematic extermination of a group of people like the Holocaust (or Rwanda) was. Still, call it cultural genocide, demographic genocide or ethnic cleansing, it’s a monstrous crime against humanity, so it should hit home for everyone. Though not, apparently, for Wall Street, where money is thicker than blood.
Howard R. Gold is a MarketWatch columnist. Follow him on Twitter @howardrgold.
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