She Rejected the ILO’s Concerns about Discrimination of the Uyghurs. The UN Labour Body just Appointed Her

Eyebrows have been raised at the ILO and among some of its Member States after the nomination of Xiaoyan Qian, a former senior Chinese official, as Director of the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific. Requesting anonymity, a source at the International Labour Organization described Ms. Qian’s nomination as “appalling” in light of her past statements denying the violation of human rights and discrimination against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, which have been alleged by the UN’s human rights body, the ILO’s independent Committee of Experts (CoE), and numerous human rights organizations.

Ms Xiaoyan Qian takes up post as ILO director for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic
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China dismissed the report saying it is based on “disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces.”

In 2022, representing China during a discussion before the ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) about ILO Convention 111 on discrimination at work, Ms. Qian vigorously denied the Committee’s concerns and objected to the ILO’s oversight, according to the interpretation of her remarks: “Since 2020, China has supplied the Committee with numerous reports and elaborating facts, showing sincerity. This shows that we are a responsible member of this Organization. Regrettably, the Committee has adopted such a groundless position against China, asking China to stop the so-called and non-existing discriminative practices against Uyghur populations. We firmly reject such a practice. […] There exists no discrimination against any ethnicities. On China’s application of Convention No. 111, there are always a handful of anti-China forces who are manipulating this issue and criticizing using the Convention and this platform.”

Mrs. Qian represented Beijing’s government in her capacity as Deputy Director-General of the International Cooperation Department of the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS). At MOHRSS she worked under Mr. Hao Bin, who in 2023 was appointed ILO’s Assistant Director-General for Corporate Services.

While Mrs. Qian’s appointment to a technical position in the Bangkok bureau was the ILO D-G’s prerogative under the organization’s regulations, some ILO constituents and Member States are nevertheless expressing concerns: “Pulling someone directly from the Chinese government to oversee the ILO’s supervision and assistance in a region where, as in China, workers do not enjoy freedom of association, where unions are not authorized, is strange,” a diplomatic source familiar with the matter admitted to The G|O, referencing labour rights issues in Cambodia and Laos. “That kind of appointment does lead to some questions about the integrity of the ILO’s assistance in that sub-region and in the comfort that governments will have in assessing it. But the ILO is a large organization, and its norms and standards departments and other officials are heavily involved in the question,” the source added, expressing some hope that Ms. Qian’s positions may now defend the ILO's mission than her government's positions.

This controversial nomination comes on top of what informed, long-time ILO watchers consider a worrisome loss of institutional knowledge at the UN labour body. As a consequence of the D-G’s reorganization last year, many highly experienced specialists and managers have retired early or departed, and are no longer providing early warning signals about possible criticism of the organization when sensitive decisions are being considered. It runs deep, according to some sources. Recently, a senior ILO official had to apologize to a Member State’s representative for the sub-par quality of an important document emanating from senior management, one source outside the organization told me.

Requests from comments addressed to the ILO have remained unanswered.