The World Bank is contributing to China's "gulag" prison system by funding a project in a remote area of western China used for forced labor camps, American human rights activist Harry Wu said Monday.
Wu, who became the focus of strained U.S.-Chinese ties this summer when China arrested him on spying charges, said at a news conference that the World Bank ignores the existence of these camps in the desolate area of the Xinjiang region covered by the project.
The International Development Assn., the bank's wing for low-interest loans to poorer countries, has provided about $90 million in credit for the Tarim Basin Project to improve food production along the edge of the Taklimakan Desert near China's border with Kazakhstan.
Wu, who visited the area last year and filmed labor camp workers planting cotton, said there are at least seven laogai , or reform-through-labor prison camps, run by the Justice Ministry and 14 others run by the People's Liberation Army in the project area.
He put the prison population at 25,000 to 60,000.
Wu urged the bank to adopt an official policy that bars the use of forced labor on all bank projects.
Nicholas Hope, director of the bank's China-Mongolia department, said the bank would pursue with the Chinese government any concrete evidence that prison labor is involved in its programs.
But Hope added that "it's the policy of the World Bank to lend money for the alleviation of poverty" and that the Tarim Basin Project is benefiting more than 500,000 of China's poorest people.