Congress approves import ban targeting forced Muslim labor in China

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senators on Thursday gave Congress final approval to a bill banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless companies can prove they were produced without forced labor , overcoming initial White House hesitation and what supporters have called corporate opposition.

The move is the latest in a series that intensifies U.S. sanctions against systemic allegations and widespread abuse of ethnic and religious minorities in the western region, especially that of Xinjiang Predominantly Muslim Uyghurs. The Biden administration also announced on Thursday new sanctions targeting several Chinese biotechnology and surveillance companies, a major drone maker and government entities for their actions in Xinjiang.

The Senate vote sends the bill to President Joe Biden. Press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that Biden supported the measure, after months the White House refused to take a public position on an earlier version of the legislation.

The United States says China is committing genocide in its treatment of Uyghurs. This includes widespread reports by rights groups and journalists from forced sterilization and large detention camps where many Uyghurs would be forced to work in factories.

China denies any abuse. He says the measures he has taken are necessary to fight terrorism and a separatist movement.

The United States cites raw cotton, gloves, tomato products, silicone and viscose, fishing gear, and a range of solar energy components among the products allegedly produced using forced labor.

Xinjiang is a resource-rich mining region, important for agricultural production, and home to a thriving industrial sector. Detainees are also being moved out of Xinjiang and put to work in factories, including clothing and textiles, electronics, solar power and automobiles, according to the United States.

“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains. And, frankly, they shouldn’t have any concerns about this law, ”said Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who introduced the previous version of the legislation with Democratic Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, in a comment. communicated.

“For those who have not, they will no longer be able to continue to make Americans – each of us, frankly – unwitting accomplices in atrocities, in genocide,” Rubio said.

As in the House earlier this week, the compromise version was passed by the Senate with the overwhelming approval of Democrats and Republicans. The quick move came after what supporters said was behind-the-scenes opposition from companies with manufacturing ties to China, though there was little to no overt opposition.

Apple’s lobbying firm lobbied on behalf of Apple, according to a federal disclosure form. Apple, like Nike and other companies working in China, says it has found no signs of Xinjiang forced labor in its manufacturing or supply chain.

Some Uyghur rights activists and others said they also feared private opposition within the Biden administration as it sought Chinese cooperation on climate change and other issues.

Psaki, in his statement Tuesday evening, noted export controls and import restrictions, sanctions, diplomatic initiatives and other measures the Biden administration had already taken against forced labor in Xinjiang.

The Senate also approved Biden’s candidate for ambassador to China, veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns, on Thursday in a 75-18 vote.

Lawyers credited the unwavering support from advocacy groups and lawmakers, including statements by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to helping the bill win.

With the legislation, sanctions and months of other new measures, “the United States is one step ahead” of the international community in confronting China over Uyghur abuses, said Nury Turkel, senior researcher at the ‘Hudson Institute and Vice President of the American Commission. on international religious freedom.

How to change China “without attacking the most important thing for the Chinese government, which is its economic interest?” asked Turkel, who praised Congress – but not the administration – for what he called a cohesive message on the issue.

The law requires government agencies to expand their oversight of the use of forced labor by ethnic minorities in China. Mostly, it creates a presumption that goods from Xinjiang are made with forced labor. Companies will have to prove that forced labor, including by workers transferred from Xinjiang, played no role in a product to bring it to the United States.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department announced new sanctions targeting the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes that focus on using biotechnology to support the Chinese military.

The move prohibits US companies from selling goods and technology to unlicensed entities.

China “chooses to use these technologies to exercise control over its people and its repression of members of minority ethnic and religious groups,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

Separately, the Treasury Department said it was placing DJI, the world’s largest drone maker, and seven other Chinese companies on an investment blacklist for their alleged involvement in biometric surveillance and Uyghur tracking.

The measure means that individuals in the United States will be prohibited from buying or selling publicly traded securities related to companies.

DJI dominates the global market for small, low-level drones used by hobbyists, photographers, and many businesses and governments.

Other companies added to the Treasury’s blacklist are image recognition software company Megvii, supercomputer maker Dawning Information Industry, facial recognition specialist CloudWalk Technology, cybersecurity group Xiamen Meiya Pico, company d artificial intelligence Yitu Technology and cloud computing companies Leon Technology and NetPosa Technologies.

U.S. intelligence has established that Beijing has set up a high-tech surveillance system across Xinjiang that uses biometric facial recognition and has collected DNA samples from all residents, ages 12 to 65, in the part of a systematic effort to suppress the Uyghurs, according to a senior administration official who briefed journalists on the sanctions on condition of anonymity.

The Commerce Department said several federal agencies have determined that the Chinese academy and research institutes “are using biotechnological processes to support Chinese military end uses and end users, including alleged brain control weapons.”

The White House announced last week that it would hold a diplomatic conference boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, citing the “gross human rights violations and atrocities committed by China in Xinjiang”. American athletes will compete but Biden will not send the usual contingent of dignitaries.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment.

Rights groups note that prison labor has long been a part of the U.S. economy, with inmates producing goods and providing services such as call centers for generally reduced pay. Opponents say the system disproportionately benefits from the work of imprisoned black Americans.

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