Chinese officials routinely label Xinjiang as a tightly controlled region free of political unrest. The region is home to the region’s largest Muslim ethnic minority, the Uighurs, who have long complained of growing repression. The Xinjiang government imposes some of its strictest forms of political control in nearby Urumqi.
The U.S. Treasury Department considers Xinjiang an area of “high concern,” noting that the government there routinely uses organs of the Party as prisons, which hold prisoners in conditions reminiscent of conditions used in North Korea.
In 2012, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued a blunt warning to the Chinese, noting that militant Uighur leaders in Xinjiang have traveled to Iraq and Syria to organize terrorist attacks. “We have watched these groups get stronger by recruiting adherents in Xinjiang,” she wrote.
But in 2017, a State Department report found that China’s repressive policies in Xinjiang had “led to a sharp rise in religious extremism, which has manifested itself in Uighur chauvinism, terrorism, and religious extremism.”
Uighur religious leaders have ties to senior figures in the region, including Uighur exiles who now live in the United States, according to several Uighur community leaders. The China Digital Times has compiled a list of prominent Uighur activists who have fled to the United States and provided details about their most recent whereabouts.
Xinjiang is still a province of China. Its status as a separate region governed by its own laws and governed by the Chinese government – and rife with economic corruption – is limited. It is unclear if Treasury will pursue a range of legal actions against Chinese individuals or business or what it may be able to compel US companies or others to do in the region.
More than 100 US companies have significant operations in Xinjiang, with hundreds more collecting data on local populations in the region, according to data obtained from a group affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Those companies include Halliburton, Coca-Cola, Ford, General Electric, Google, Home Depot, IBM, Microsoft, Starbucks, Verizon, United Rentals, Walmart, and Tesla.
Officials with the companies declined to comment on their whereabouts in the region. Many of the companies appeared to have stepped up their efforts to monitor and track Uighur populations, according to data compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Civic Engagement Program.