Asleep at the Wheel

Asleep at the Wheel

The car industry is fulfilling Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2014 ambition to transform the country into “an automobile power.” Domestic and foreign manufacturers in China produced and exported more cars than any other country in the world in 2023. Chinese companies also produce and export billions of dollars of parts used by global carmakers, from electric vehicle batteries to alloy wheels. Many of the industry’s biggest brands, including BYD, General Motors, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen, use China as a manufacturing and supplier base, a vital sales market, or both. Cars made in China are increasingly on the streets of Brussels, London, Mexico City, Sydney, and even New York.

But while the Chinese government has welcomed car companies’ investments on its own terms, it has so far shown hostility to the human rights and responsible sourcing policies many carmakers profess to apply across their businesses. Almost a tenth of the world’s aluminum, a key material for car manufacturing, is produced in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang or XUAR), a region in northwestern China, where the Chinese government is conducting a long-running campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim communities. Since 2017, Chinese authorities have perpetrated crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, including arbitrary detentions of an estimated one million people at the height of the crackdown, torture, enforced disappearances, mass surveillance, cultural and religious persecution, separation of families, sexual violence, and violations of reproductive rights, as well as subjecting Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim communities to forced labor inside and outside Xinjiang.

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