“When it comes to human rights violations in China, Tibet was Patient Zero,” Lobsang Sangay, the president of the Tibetan government in exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration, told me during a visit to Washington last week. “Xi Jinping is now reintroducing labor camps back into Tibet . . . what’s new is the speed and the scale of it and the military style that they are bringing to it.”
Beijing has forced more than half a million rural Tibetans into these military-style training and indoctrination facilities in just the past six months, Sangay said. Upon their release, thousands of rural laborers are sent to perform factory work or menial jobs in other parts of China, all under the guise of “poverty alleviation,” according to a September report by the Jamestown Foundation. Corroborating documents obtained by Reuters showed that Chinese Communist Party officials were given strict quotas for how many Tibetans to round up.
While Beijing has long operated gulags for political prisoners and dissidents in Tibet, these new facilities represent a huge expansion of China’s years-long program to involuntarily mass relocate rural Tibetans, which Human Rights Watch in 2013 called “unprecedented in the post-Mao era.” The goal of these camps is threefold, according to Sangay: Beijing wants to appropriate Tibetan land to commercialize its natural resources; the CCP uses the camps to forcibly assimilate Tibetans by snuffing out their culture, language and religion; and the third goal, using Tibetans as cheap forced labor, serves the first two.