WASHINGTON — The World Bank said Monday that it would scale back development work in China’s Xinjiang region after speculation that a $50 million loan it granted in 2015 for an education project was being used to fund Muslim detention camps.
The bank has been conducting a review of the project since Sen. Marco Rubio, (Republican-Florida), and Rep. Jim McGovern, (Democrat-Massachusetts), expressed concern about it in August and after an independent researcher found evidence suggesting that funds were being used to buy police batons and tear gas launchers.
The Chinese government has been facing criticism for detaining more than a million Muslim Uighurs and placing them in “re-education” camps where they are forced to renounce their religious beliefs and embrace the ideology of the Communist Party.
The bank said it reviewed the project extensively and was unable to substantiate the allegations. However, the bank acknowledged the challenge of rigorously monitoring the situation and said it was making changes to the project.
The loan was intended to support five vocational schools in the region by upgrading teams of teachers and curriculums. Some of this money was going to “partner schools” that were indirectly receiving World Bank funding and were not under the bank’s supervision.
“In light of the risks associated with the partner schools, which are widely dispersed and difficult to monitor, the scope and footprint of the project is being reduced,” the bank said in a statement. “Specifically, the project component that involves the partner schools in Xinjiang is being closed.”
The bank said it was also increasing its supervision of the project, which is supposed to continue through next year, by assigning a staff member from Washington to jointly head it and bringing on a senior manager from the bank to participate in site visits.
Last month, the Trump administration imposed some commercial restrictions on Chinese technology companies and other organizations believed to be involved in the repression, and said it would impose a visa ban on officials thought to be responsible for human rights abuses.
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