Cotton farmers in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are now busy with sowing, as the new cotton season began at the end of March, and many hope this year's harvest will bring more improvements in living standards - maybe a new car for the family or money for children's college fees. However, their hard work and hopes for a better life may have been dashed by anti-China forces' attacks on Xinjiang's cotton industry.
Many overseas news outlets, including VOA Chinese, reported that the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a global not-for-profit organization, announced it would "suspend its activities in Xinjiang" over concerns of "forced labor in the region."
These reports seemed to boast "victory" by drawing a new international organization on the industrial chain to the "right side" by accusing China of "forced labor" issues, and many anti-China forces, especially members of the World Uyghur Congress, a US-backed network seeking the fall of China, have been eager to repost the reports. However, these reports have never told the whole picture to readers, Chinese experts said.
In an announcement released on March 11, BCI said that it is "suspending its assurance activities in the Xinjiang region of China," but added that "we will continue to support farmers in the region during this period."
The organization said it has "contracted a recognized global expert to conduct an external review to document the situation in Western China." However, the result of the review had not yet been released before the decision was made to pull the license in Xinjiang. According to its official website, BCI has regional offices in China.
Tian Yun, vice director of the Beijing Economic Operation Association, told the Global Times that "whether cotton produced in a place is of better quality should be evaluated according to certain standards, which should not be messed with using political tricks."
"Considering the continued slandering of China over so-called forced labor issues recently, the latest hyping of BCI's move shows some anti-China forces are targeting the entire industrial chain related to cotton planting, yarn manufacturing and garment-making in Xinjiang," Tian said.
After searching for news on BCI and China's Xinjiang, the Global Times reporters found that from as far back as July in 2019, anti-China forces, especially the WUC and many news media, have continually criticized BCI and pressured it to pull out from China's Xinjiang region.
For example, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, an affiliate of the WUC, which has received funding from the US National Endowment for Democracy, released "reports" on its website and slammed the BCI for "refusing to quit Xinjiang."
The WUC and some international non-governmental organizations have targeted cotton related industries in Xinjiang since data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that January cotton output from Xinjiang exceeded 5 million tons in 2019, accounting for 84.9 percent of the total in China.
Xinjiang has ranked first in terms of the country's total cotton output, per unit output and planting area for 25 consecutive years, according to local authorities.
"Overseas separatist forces and anti-China forces in the US collude together to attack cotton related industries in Xinjiang, aiming to undermine local development, destroy residents' employment and harm their livelihood. They have used, are now using and will never stop using all kinds of dirty methods to disturb Xinjiang's development," Tian said.
It is not the first time the WUC has used the "forced labor" topic to smear China. The Global Times reporters found that the US-backed organization criticized China over unemployment among Uygurs in Xinjiang in 2017 and claimed that Uygurs are forced to work without pay in southern Xinjiang.
However, grassroots public servants, villagers of all ethnic groups and officials reached by the Global Times said that there is no forced labor in Xinjiang and the previous unemployment problems in some places were partly caused by local residents' lack of vocational skills and low economic development level.
Targeting the industrial chain
Aside from cotton producing, anti-China forces' slander involving "forced labor" also aims to attack the downstream of the industrial chain - garment and clothing factories.
Zhang Jie, general manager of Xinjiang Jinliyuan Clothing Co, told the Global Times that his clothing factory in Xinjiang, which was mainly focused on exports, has now fully transitioned to domestic sales after foreign clients from the US and Germany halted business orders in the second half of last year.
"The US' Disney Co used to place orders for 700,000 pieces of clothing per year in the firm, but now it's all gone," said Zhang.
Disrupted and saddened by the sudden change, Zhang had to make a plan to change the situation or the company could not survive. In October last year, the factory employed 600 workers, only one-third of its original scale of more than 1,800.
"The Western media does not understand the reality here and they purposefully ignore the efforts that the regional government has been continuously making to improve local business and employment and enhance people's living standards," Zhang said, adding that their behavior will only impact local people's interests, and that they themselves have nothing to lose.
As the majority of Xinjiang's local workers were previously farmers, they need training in clothes making, which is a difficult process that takes time, "but it's worth the time and effort because the workers are better paid than they used to be, and as entrepreneurs, we want to invest in the future of Xinjiang," Zhang noted.
"I still remember when I recruited workers in Aksu in 2017, the first year when I set up business here, 585 out of more than 1,000 people were poverty-stricken, and they have gradually gotten rid of that situation through their jobs," he recalled.
With the grand goal of eradicating absolute poverty in 2020, the poor people of Xinjiang have benefited from policies that reach into every corner of their lives, such as industries, employment and relocation, resulting in more employment opportunities and stable incomes.
"Let's wait five years from now, and Xinjiang will climb to a new higher level, which is also a crucial mode for the country's manufacturing to making a step forward," he said.
Groundless criticism from Western media on Xinjiang's human rights issues may influence the cotton industry in Xinjiang, which will also disrupt the global supply chain, analysts said.
Cotton from Xinjiang holds a key position in the world's cotton industrial chain. "If global output is calculated at 24 million tons per year, Xinjiang's takes up at least one-sixth," a cotton industry insider, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Global Times Thursday.
"If global retailers and apparel brands do not plan to reduce cotton in their products, there is no other region in the world that can substitute for the possible loss of Xinjiang cotton," the insider said.
"From the industry perspective and market-driven principles, it is unrealistic for any international cotton purchaser in the Chinese market to avoid Xinjiang cotton," she said.