US imposes sanctions on 11 Chinese companies over human rights

Ana Swanson, The New York Times

Posted at Jul 21 2020 11:27 AM | Updated as of Jul 21 2020 11:28 AM

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 15, 2020. Anna Moneymaker, The New York Times 

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday barred 11 new Chinese companies from purchasing US technology and products without a special license, saying the firms were complicit in human rights violations in China’s campaign targeting Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The list of sanctioned companies includes current and former suppliers to major international brands including Apple, Ralph Lauren, Google, HP, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Muji, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank established by the Australian government. The group cited the websites of the sanctioned Chinese companies, which mentioned their financial relationships with major American brands.

The administration’s announcement could precipitate more efforts by prominent clothing and technology brands to sever ties with opaque supply chains that touch on Xinjiang, a major source of cotton, textiles, petrochemicals and other goods that feed into Chinese factories.

Human rights groups and journalists have documented a campaign of mass detentions carried out by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, in which 1 million or more members of Muslim and other minority groups have been placed into large internment camps intended to increase their loyalty to the Communist Party. Some of these detainees are forced to work in factories in or near the camps, often processing Xinjiang’s abundant cotton crop into various textiles that may then be funneled into international supply chains.

A Times video investigation identified Chinese companies using a contentious labor program for Muslim Uighurs to satisfy demand for face masks and other personal protective equipment, some of which ended up in the United States and other countries.

Nine of the companies that the Trump administration cited on Monday, including Changji Esquel Textile Co. Ltd., Nanchang O-Film Tech and Hetian Taida Apparel Co. Ltd., were added to the so-called entity list for their use of forced labor, the Commerce Department said. Two other companies, Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI, were added for conducting genetic analyses that were used to further the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, according to the announcement.

The blacklist only prevents US companies from selling components or technologies to Chinese companies without a license, not from purchasing products. In practice, however, major international brands are unlikely to continue doing business with any firm named on a government list for forced labor or other abuses in Xinjiang.

“Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labor and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations.”

The move comes amid rising tensions between the United States and China, and less than two weeks after the administration imposed sanctions on multiple Chinese officials for aiding in human rights abuses.

Trump held off on sanctions over China’s treatment of its Uighur minority for much of 2018 and 2019 in the interest of closing a trade deal with China, which he signed in January. Since then, the Trump administration has become more critical of China, blaming it for not doing enough to contain the coronavirus and rebuking a new security law that increases Beijing’s control over Hong Kong.

The announcement Monday is the latest step in the administration’s campaign to bar Chinese companies from buying products from US companies. The United States had previously placed 37 companies on its entity list for violations related to Xinjiang. The Trump administration has also sanctioned a variety of Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, for national security threats.

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