Every so often one hears reports that Chinese soliders have been sighted around Chinese construction projects in Africa or Cambodia. I have tended not to believe these reports, but perhaps there is a clue to the mystery. A Chinese news site recently reported (戚亚平 Qi Yaping, 新疆兵团参与非洲国家安哥拉战后重建 Xinjiang Construction Corps participates in post-war reconstruction in Angola, Africa) that several construction units of the Xinjiang Construction Corps, the unique military engineering organisation that has had a large role in the industrialization of Xinjiang and enjoys special rights there, has been a subcontractor on a project to build a “new city” in a suburb of Luanda, the Angolan capital, since 2002. Only 20 of the personnel actually belong to the Corps, while 510 are contract workers from various provinces. The article gives a glimpse of their life.
Since produce is so expensive, the Corps has applied for, and received, a 2000-mu (133 ha) plot on which they plant vegetables and rice. Whatever produce is not used is sold at the market. Workers live six to a room and must apply for leave when they leave the camp “for security reasons;” they may not leave alone. All material and equipment comes from China, as do daily necessities that are sold at the company shop. The only thing that is locally sourced is gravel, from a quarry run by the Corps itself.