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In Tiemenguan, a girl walks to school beside a propaganda poster showing Chinese President Xi Jinping with children.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

The Xinjiang city of Tiemenguan over the past two years has sought to boost its local constabulary by hiring new auxiliary police. Applicants must be under the age of 35, possess a high-school education and be in good physical condition.

But job-seekers must also meet a set of additional criteria, according to recruitment documents posted online. They must bring with them at least two relatives. And they must be Han Chinese, members of the country’s dominant ethnicity.

If they meet the criteria, new recruits can enjoy a series of benefits, including a fertility policy. Those who give birth to a second child, the recruitment document says, can receive a 10,000-yuan (about $1,900) subsidy – equal to roughly two months of pay – to cover prenatal checkups and other costs. Maternity leave will also be extended. It’s part of a national push to encourage more births, which has included China proclaiming a countrywide three-child policy in May.

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Altay

CHINA

MONGOLIA

Shihezi

Ürümqi

KAZAK.

Turpan

Tiemenguan

KYRGYZSTAN

Aksu

GANSU

XINJIANG PROVINCE

Kashgar

TAJIK.

Hotan

CHINA

INDIA

TIBET

QINGHAI

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

Altay

CHINA

MONGOLIA

Shihezi

Ürümqi

KAZAK.

Turpan

Tiemenguan

KYRGYZSTAN

Aksu

GANSU

XINJIANG PROVINCE

Kashgar

TAJIK.

Hotan

CHINA

INDIA

TIBET

QINGHAI

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

Altay

CHINA

MONGOLIA

Shihezi

Ürümqi

KAZAK.

Turpan

Tiemenguan

KYRGYZSTAN

Aksu

GANSU

XINJIANG PROVINCE

Kashgar

TAJIK.

Hotan

CHINA

INDIA

TIBET

QINGHAI

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

But it’s also part of a specific effort in Xinjiang to encourage births in places with large Han populations, while officials seek to limit babies in areas with more prominent Muslim populations.

“We are supported to have more children,” says Ms. Yang, a grandmother in Tiemenguan who provided only her surname to The Globe and Mail. A former teacher on a walk with her grandson, Ms. Yang described services provided to families who have additional children in Tiemenguan, which is 95 per cent Han: medical checks, extended maternity leave, free hospital birth services. “It’s convenient. It’s all free,” she said. “Without those benefits, who would want to have more children?”

Surveillance cameras monitor a small road in Maralbaxi, Xinjiang.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

In other parts of Xinjiang, too, authorities openly advertise birth incentives for those willing to have additional children. In Shahe, recruiters promise a raft of bonuses for newly settled families who give birth to a second child, including a one-time “incentive fund” of 5,000 yuan, subsidies of 500 yuan for a normal birth or 1,000 yuan for a difficult birth, as well as paternity subsidy funds (600 yuan) and maternity payments (7,000 to 9,000 yuan).

But as in Tiemenguan, such incentives aren’t available to everyone. The Shahe recruitment specifies the jobs are for “non-Xinjiang” residents.

Elsewhere in Xinjiang, in villages and cities with large populations of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim Turkic groups, authorities have taken a very different approach to expanding families. Since 2017, those areas have pursued a strike-hard campaign against what they have called “illegal” childbirth. Family planning officials have demanded regular proof from women of child-bearing age that they are not pregnant – even among those legally permitted to have additional children.

Government documents describe specific birth targets and a goal to “optimize the population structure.” That “means fewer rural Uyghur births and more Han urban births,” said James Leibold, a scholar at La Trobe University in Australia who has written extensively on birth policies in Xinjiang.

“It’s kind of discriminatory eugenics thinking as it relates to population planning in Xinjiang, and particularly amongst the indigenous population.”

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In southern Xinjiang, where the Uyghur population is most concentrated, families have been told that they must wait years to have additional children, under local “birth-interval” policies that mandate a gap of as long as three years and 10 months between children.

Enforcing that policy alone “will reduce the annual birth rate in southern Xinjiang by three to four per thousand,” the Xinjiang regional health committee has written. That is a considerable change: In 2018, the region’s birth rate was 10.69 per thousand.

A sculpture shows children in the Xinjiang city of Shihezi.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

The numbers of abortions, sterilizations and insertions of intrauterine devices have soared. Local officials have boasted about lowering birth rates to near zero. Parents have been sent for forcible political indoctrination – and their children placed in state care – for violating the policy.

Those policies have underpinned international condemnation of China, including the declaration by a series of legislatures – Canada among them – that what is happening in Xinjiang amounts to genocide.

The Chinese government has denied any wrongdoing, claiming that it seeks only the fair application of the country’s family planning law, regardless of ethnicity.

But government documents and interviews in Xinjiang reveal that the strike-hard campaign in areas dominated by ethnic minorities has taken place alongside a campaign to promote child-bearing in Han-dominated areas. That effort is being led largely by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a unique organization with military roots that has, since 1954, been one of the most important tools used by Beijing to project power and people into the region.

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Known as the Bingtuan, the organization’s history is closely interwoven with Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. Initially populated by decommissioned soldiers, the Bingtuan has used mass irrigation to turn large areas of the region’s arid land into agricultural fields, with a work force that now exceeds three million.

But the Bingtuan has also, from its inception, been a vessel for the settlement of Xinjiang with people from other parts of China, many of them Han Chinese.

“The founding rationale of the XPCC was to ensure that sufficient Han Chinese settled and remained in Xinjiang, thus demonstrating the sovereignty of the centre and maintaining the security of Xinjiang,” wrote Yajun Bao, who worked in the Bingtuan for a year before writing about the organization as visiting fellow at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. “This remains a central tenet of its mission.”

The health centre in Maralbaxi where the local family planning office is located.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

In 2017, the year the strike-hard family planning campaign began in ethnic areas of Xinjiang, Wang Jian, deputy political commissar of the 102nd Regiment of the Bingtuan’s Sixth Division, published a report on “Xinjiang Bingtuan population structure optimization.”

He advocated for greater official encouragement of families to “not give up on having a second child,” describing the Bingtuan’s potential value in altering the population makeup of Xinjiang. “The Bingtuan should reasonably increase the fertility level of the Han population and limit the fertility level of ethnic minorities to achieve an equal fertility policy,” Mr. Wang wrote.

That policy has been especially clear in Tiemenguan. “We are now promoting the birth of the second child,” Chen Huanxin, deputy director of the local health commission, said in an interview.

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Tiemenguan, he said, has experienced none of the birth crackdowns seen in other parts of Xinjiang. “We don’t have this so-called strict punishment against illegal births here,” he said.

Instead, the Bingtuan has sought to make itself one of the most attractive places in China for families to have second children. The organization’s most important urban centre, Shihezi, offers women 2½ months of prenatal time off and up to six months of breastfeeding leave, with 80 per cent salary. It also extended maternity leave and offered a raft of free health care services.

“They encourage you to have a second born or third born,” said Ms. Fu, who was walking with her 19-month-old second son, Hang Hang, in the city’s Yingbing district. She also provided only her surname to The Globe.

“They encourage you to have two children and three children – and then they give you, for example, money, child support and milk powder,” she said. Maternity leave for additional children has now been extended to 158 days, far exceeding the 98 days that is the national standard.

Propaganda on a street in Maralbaxi, a largely Uyghur centre where officials boasted they had cut birth rates to far below the national average.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

“The Bingtuan has its own policies,” Ms. Fu said.

The organization’s role in reshaping Xinjiang has been mandated from Beijing.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping himself urged the Bingtuan to pursue “population resource optimization,” Li Weichao and Wang Lijuan, scholars at the Communist Party School in the Bingtuan’s 13th Division, wrote in a 2020 article. They described as problematic a slight shift in the ethnic composition of the Bingtuan, which went from 88 per cent Han in 2000 to 85 per cent in 2017.

“The Han population is growing slowly, and its proportion continues to decline, with a further imbalance in the population ratio between the Han and the ethnic-minority people,” they wrote. This situation, they said, “is not only detrimental to the economic and social development, but also detrimental to ethnic interaction, exchange and integration.”

The combination of hiring and birth incentives have injected new strength into the Bingtuan. Its population increased by a greater number between 2016 and 2019 than it did in the 15 years previous.

In Uyghur communities, the opposite is taking place.

Nathan VanderKlippe has been The Globe’s Beijing-based correspondent since 2013 and has seen the ambitions and discontents of Xi Jinping’s China take shape. He outlines some key areas to watch around China’s political and economic ambitions as it also represses ethnic minorities and holds two Canadians captive. The Globe and Mail

Take Maralbaxi County, which is located 250 kilometres away from Alar, another Bingtuan settlement. Alar is 88 per cent Han, and provides subsidies and extended leave to parents of second children. In Maralbaxi, which is 93 per cent Uyghur, officials boasted last year that they had achieved a birth rate of 4.15 per thousand in 2019 – a precipitous drop from previous years, to a level so low it was less than 40 per cent of the national birth rate that year, which was itself the lowest in China since 1949.

Chinese officials have acknowledged that the birth rate across Xinjiang fell by nearly a third in 2018. In January, Xu Guixiang, deputy director-general of the Communist Party propaganda office in Xinjiang, said the “control of unscheduled births based on family planning policy” had prevented the delivery of 80,000 babies.

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The Chinese government has described a need to act motivated by widespread violations of the country’s birth-control policies in Xinjiang. That narrative is contradicted by government statistics. In 2015, one county in Kashgar, a region that is 86 per cent Uyghur, examined statistics from 1989 to 2014. In that time, 10.5 per cent of children were born “outside of family planning” policies.

The Chinese foreign ministry has denied any unfair treatment of Uyghurs. “Xinjiang never formulated or implemented family planning policies targeting any single ethnic minority. The so-called ‘birth-rate goals and quotas’ are simply non-existent,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in mid-May.

In Maralbaxi, the 2019 government work report calls for the birth rate to be kept below seven per thousand, well below the national average. The document has since been edited to remove references to family planning targets. The 2020 work report has also been scrubbed of references to family planning.

But birth restrictions continue to be emphasized on a propaganda wall at the entrance to Maralbaxi, which stresses “the obligation to carry out family planning.” The Globe and Mail recently travelled to the health centre where Maralbaxi’s family planning officials work and requested an interview. After several hours of waiting, no one responded.

Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail

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