Chinese schools receiving World Bank loans wanted to buy facial recognition technology for use against Muslims in Xinjiang, according to documents obtained by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios’ new China expert.
- Why it matters: The World Bank loan program in Xinjiang shows the extreme moral hazard facing organizations operating in the region, where China has built a surveillance state and detained more than 1 million ethnic minorities.
A World Bank-funded school unsuccessfully requested a facial-recognition software system to create a “blacklist face database that can be set and armed.”
- The purpose: “[W]hen blacklisted individuals pass through,” the images could be sent directly to Chinese police.
In more than 8,000 pages of World Bank Chinese-language procurement documents dated June 2017, participants in the loan program requested tens of thousands of dollars to buy facial recognition cameras and software, night-vision cameras, and other surveillance technology for Xinjiang schools.
- The World Bank told Axios those funds were not provided.
- A World Bank spokesperson said: “[I]nclusive societies are key to sustainable development, and we take a strong line against discrimination of any kind.”
What happened: In 2015, the World Bank began a loan program providing $50 million over five years to five Xinjiang vocational schools.
- By 2017, China had blanketed Xinjiang with surveillance tech that it used to force Uighurs and other ethnic minorities into internment camps Beijing calls “vocational training centers.”
- The World Bank didn’t review or scale back the program at that time.
In August, the loan program came under congressional scrutiny for possible complicity in China’s repression.
- In November, the World Bank announced it was scaling back the program.
- But the five original schools continue to receive World Bank funding.
A World Bank spokesperson told Axios that procurement documents had not been translated into English, making oversight difficult because only Chinese-speaking staff could read them.