World Bank cuts back project in China's restive Xinjiang

The World Bank is cutting back a $50 million project that supported vocational colleges in China's restive Xinjiang

BEIJING -- The World Bank is cutting back a $50 million project in China's restive Xinjiang region following a review prompted by allegations of abuses.

A statement from the bank dated Monday said it would close a component of the project to support vocational colleges involving partner schools that were the subject of the abuse claims.

It said although visits to the partner schools "did not substantiate the allegations," they were too widely dispersed to be properly monitored for adherence to bank standards.

"In addition, the project will be placed under enhanced supervision to ensure that all applicable Bank standards are adhered to," the bank said.

The statement said a review was ordered after "serious allegations" about the partner schools were received in August, but did not describe them in detail.

"The World Bank's work is driven by core principles of inclusion, with special consideration for the protection of minorities and other vulnerable peoples," it said. "When allegations are made, the World Bank takes them seriously and reviews them thoroughly."

While the partner schools account for just 1% of the project's financing, the move is politically significant because China has been criticized for confining more than 1 million members of Muslim minority ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

China says they are being offered training to reduce poverty and extremism. Critics say they are political reeducation camps where inmates are held indefinitely without due process, subject to abuse and forced to renounce their traditional religion and culture while pledging loyalty to Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

China is normally highly sensitive to any hint of criticism over its policies toward minorities, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet.

However, asked about the bank's decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it sought to "facilitate management and reduce the supervision cost of the projects."

The bank consulted with China on the adjustments and its report found the allegations against the sister schools to be untrue, Geng said.

The World Bank project aims to upgrade the curriculum, teacher skills and post-graduation employment opportunities offered by five long-established public vocational colleges in Xinjiang, the bank said.

World Bank lending to China has been criticized since the country is now the world's second-largest economy and is itself a major lender to poor nations, usually at market interest rates.