U.S.-China ties come a not-so-easy time after the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics in February next year. American companies must import goods from Xinjiang Province in China unless they can prove that no forced labor was done in the production chain of products.The Chinese response, furious condemnation, was not long in coming.
China has been battling allegations of human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim minority by the West for several years. Among other things, the state is accused of incarcerating thousands of Uighurs in large detention camps, using forced labor in the resource-rich Xinjiang manufacturing plants, forcing women to have abortions and committing massive indoctrination and other similar crimes.
Concentration and Labor Camps in Xinjiang Province / Photo: Reuters
The Uighur Compulsory Employment Prevention Act is part of the U.S. effort against China’s treatment of the Muslim minority, which Washington has defined as “genocide.” The bill passed in Congress this month after lawmakers reached a compromise between the House of Representatives and Senate versions of legislation.
One of the key elements in the legislation is a “proven proven wrong” assumption that all products from Xinjiang, where Beijing built detention camps for Uighurs and other Muslim groups, are defined as those produced by the use of forced labor. Under the law their importation into the US is prohibited unless it can be proven otherwise.
Some of the goods, including cotton, tomatoes and polysilicon used in the manufacture of solar panels, are defined by law as a “higher priority” for enforcement activities.
Concentration camps or “training centers”
Human rights groups have in recent years accused the Chinese regime of oppressing the Uighur minority and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province and detaining them in “re-education” camps. According to testimonies, journalistic investigations and reports from organizations and intelligence agencies, the Chinese government uses them for forced labor. Thus the practice of forced labor becomes part of the global supply chains of technology and commerce, both directly and indirectly. Sometimes with blatant disregard for suppliers and importers in the West and for the most part, without consumer awareness at the edge.
Sanctions by Western countries and overt political and diplomatic criticism in the West in recent years have prompted the Chinese government to respond. By definition, these are not concentration or coercive camps but “vocational training centers” designed to combat poverty and religious extremism.
China denies it is acting improperly. The Chinese embassy in Washington has announced that US law “ignores the truth and slanders the human rights situation in Xinjiang.”
Beijing says security punitive measures it has taken in Xinjiang are aimed at fighting the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkmenistan (ETIM), a separatist organization linked to al-Qaeda and operating in Xinjiang. “The accusations of so-called ‘forced labor’ and ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang are nothing more than brutal lies cooked by anti-Chinese forces,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the media on Friday, responding to the Americans’ new move regarding Xinjiang ‘Young.
“The American side continues to use Xinjiang – related issues to provoke rumors and cause problems. It genuinely engages in political manipulation and economic coercion, and seeks to undermine Xinjiang’s prosperity and stability and halt China’s development on the pretext of human rights,” the spokesman said. He added that “China will respond appropriately in the future in line with developments.”
Intel apologized to the Chinese people
The allegations of forced labor have led large companies to hesitate to bring in raw materials and use the county labor force.
Last week, before the new law was enacted, US chipmaker Intel apologized for a letter urging suppliers not to use products or labor from Chinese Xinjiang province. The letter states that Intel Corporation was “asked to make sure” that its supply chain did not include workers or goods originating in Xinjiang.
After an angry reaction from Beijing and a call for a total boycott of Intel by the Chinese, the technology giant apologized for the letter. “While our primary goal was to make sure our suppliers comply with U.S. laws, this letter has caused our dear partners in China to ask many questions and be apprehensive, and we are very Egypt for that,” the company wrote in a statement on Weibo, a Chinese-like Twitter site.
“We apologize for the inconvenience caused to our esteemed Chinese customers, its partners and the public. Intel is committed to being a reliable technology partner and accelerating joint development with China,” another letter from the company was quoted as saying by the BBC.
The American press reported that Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola were among the companies that allegedly acted in the US Congress to weaken the forced labor law in Xinjiang.
Nuri Turkel, deputy chairman of the U.S. Uighur Council of International Religious Freedom, told Reuters this month that the law’s effectiveness would depend on the Biden administration’s willingness to make sure it is effective, especially in implementation by companies seeking waivers.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the fact that Biden approved the law underscored “the U.S. commitment to combat forced labor, including in the context of the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang.”
In the last days of the Trump administration in January, the White House announced a ban on imports of all cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang. The U.S. Border Protection Agency estimates that about $ 9 billion in cotton products and $ 10 million in tomato products have been imported from China in the past year.