12/02/2021, 13.10
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Airbnb advertising rental homes in Xinjiang owned by a company accused of repressing Uyghurs

The United States has slapped sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which has been accused of running internment camps for Muslim Uyghurs. Beijing wants to develop "ethnic" tourism to compensate for economic losses caused by US sanctions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Xinjiang more than a dozen properties can be rented via Airbnb. The homes are on land owned by a company under US sanctions for its role in the repression of the Uyghurs, the indigenous Muslim Turkic-speaking population living in this Chinese autonomous region.

Airbnb could now end up under sanctions as well. However, the company has said that it has followed the guidelines set by the US Treasury Department in order not to run into legal troubles.

The rental homes are controlled by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organisation sanctioned in July 2020 by the Trump administration for complicity in the "genocide" and repression of ethnic minorities in the region.

The XPCC has been accused of operating mass internment camps in Xinjiang. According to the United Nations, humanitarian groups and independent researchers, Chinese authorities have interned a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. The company under sanctions produces about a third of the region's cotton, an industry that uses Uyghur forced labour.

However, the issue goes beyond the local context. Airbnb is one of the 14 major sponsors of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in which the United States and the United Kingdom would like to officially boycott the event, especially after the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai.

Advocacy groups are also calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics sponsors, but analysts say this could lead to a counter-boycott by Chinese consumers, which is what happened to H&M and other companies when they said they would no longer use Xinjiang cotton.

For some time, Beijing has been promoting domestic and “ethnic” tourism in Xinjiang, partly to compensate for the losses caused by the departure of foreign companies.

With this in mind, Uyghur houses and mosques were torn down to make way for tourist attractions; some traditional villages were destroyed and then rebuilt with planned restaurants, hotels, boutiques and cultural events.

Internment camps for Uyghurs, which China calls “vocational training centres”, are located near these sites and the rental houses advertised on Airbnb.

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