US enacts law to ban Xinjiang imports over China's forced labor

Kyodo News

Posted at Dec 24 2021 04:05 PM

US President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a bill effectively banning all imports from China's Xinjiang region amid concerns over the use of forced labor involving its Uyghur ethnic minority, immediately triggering a backlash from the Communist-led government.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate last week, is certain to further strain relations between the world's two largest economies, already at loggerheads over issues including human rights, trade and China's military assertiveness in the region.

The law underscores the United States' commitment to "combatting forced labor, including in the context of the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, referring to China's alleged human rights abuses taking place in its far-western region.

"We call on the government of the People's Republic of China to immediately end genocide and crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," he added in his statement, using the official name of China.

On Friday, China swiftly lambasted the United States, saying the government under President Xi Jinping deplores and firmly rejects Biden's signing of the bill as it denigrates the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

"We admonish the US to correct the mistake immediately, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues to spread lies, interfere in China's internal affairs and contain China's development," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The law requires US customs authorities to presume goods manufactured in the Xinjiang region have been made with forced labor, and thus ban them from import unless there is "clear and convincing" evidence to the contrary.

The provision will take effect 180 days after the enactment of the law.

Washington's action may also affect Japanese companies sourcing products from Xinjiang, a major cotton-producing region.

The move is the latest in a series of efforts by the US government to ensure that the country's supply chains are free from the forced labor of Muslim Uyghurs.

Under the 1930 Tariff Act, which prohibits the importation of merchandise produced with forced labor, the Biden administration in July imposed an import ban on a key solar panel material by a Chinese company located in Xinjiang.

An import ban on cotton and tomato products from the region was also issued toward the end of the previous administration under Donald Trump.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act will have broader coverage, as it applies to any "goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region."

More than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been unjustly detained in internment camps within the region, according to the State Department's most recent report on human rights practices.

The department has also accused Chinese authorities of using threats of physical violence, forcible drug intake, physical and sexual abuse, and torture to force detainees to work in factories producing various items including garments, hair accessories, footwear, holiday decorations, consumer electronics, face masks and food products.

China has insisted that what the United States calls detention camps are vocational training centers established to combat terrorism and religious extremism preemptively, urging Washington not to interfere in its "internal affairs."