WASHINGTON — The World Bank said on 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 Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of 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 had conducted an extensive review of the project and was not able 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.
The situation was one of the first leadership tests for David Malpass, the former Treasury Department official who took over as the World Bank’s president this year.
The Trump administration has stayed largely quiet on China’s human rights record while the two countries have been locked in trade negotiations for more than a year. In recent months, however, officials have shown more willingness to pressure China on the matter.
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.
Also in October, Vice President Mike Pence criticized China’s record on human rights in a speech last month, scolding American companies that do business there and censor their employees from speaking about repressive tactics. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared the “abusing” of Uighurs to the surveillance state depicted in George Orwell’s book “1984.”
Mr. Malpass has already made clear that he wants to scale back the bank’s lending to China given the size of its economy. In 2017, the bank lent $2.42 billion to China. This year, the total is expected to fall to $1.33 billion.
The decision is likely to further rankle Beijing. The Chinese government has taken offense to criticism from the United States about Xinjiang and defended its practices there as counterterrorism measures.
“China demands that the U.S. immediately discard its double standards in terrorism, and stop using Xinjiang as a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said last week.
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