U.S. Takes Further Action to Restrict Xinjiang Imports

The House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday that would effectively ban all imports from . While existing US laws already ban the import of goods if there is evidence of forced labor during their production, as the South China Morning Post’s Owen Churchill reports, the new legislation would presume that forced labor was involved by default:

But the new legislation approved Tuesday would reverse that calculus for Xinjiang, meaning that importers could not source goods produced either wholly or in part in the region unless the US government could certify with “clear and convincing” evidence that they were not produced using forced labour. [Source]

The bipartisan legislation passed by the House comes shortly after Customs and Border Protection last week blocked some shipments of cotton, clothing, and computer parts imported from Xinjiang. As AP’s Ben Fox reports, the Trump administration is already considering expanding measures to restrict goods from the region:

The Trump administration has over the past year issued eight of what are known as “withhold release orders,” on goods from China to block goods tainted by forced labor and is considering further steps amid ongoing disputes over trade and other issues between the two countries.

Among the measures under consideration is an order banning cotton and tomatoes from the entire Xinjiang region, a move that could have significant economic effects. Cuccinelli said the administration was still studying the proposal.

“We are gathering more evidence there but also just doing a more thorough legal analysis to make sure we can withstand any legal assault once we proceed with it,” he said in a conference call with reporters. [Source]

The US government also imposed sanctions in July on 11 companies alleged to use the forced labor of Uyghurs.

It has become harder for independent observers to audit supply chains in Xinjiang. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal’s Eva Xiao reported that at least five organizations have announced they would stop inspecting factories, making it harder for companies to certify their products to be free of forced labor:

At least five organizations say they won’t help companies audit their supply chains in China’s Xinjiang region, where human-rights activists say a police-state atmosphere and government controls make it too difficult to determine whether factories and farms are relying on forced labor.

[…] In recent years, concerns have grown that in addition to the camps, which Beijing says are for vocational education, Uighurs are forcibly sent to work in factories in the region or elsewhere in China.

To respond to the concerns, some Western brands have turned to outside companies or nonprofits to vet their suppliers. Human-rights and labor activists, however, argue that auditors risk becoming enablers that help brands justify sourcing in Xinjiang, and that, given the lack of access and heavy policing in the region, they can’t realistically carry out proper examinations of factories. Beijing has denied the existence of forced Uighur labor. [Source]

This week, Reuters’ Cate Cadell published an exclusive showing that China may be expanding its forced labor programs beyond Xinjiang into neighboring Tibet. The report shows a systematic initiative to transfer rural laborers into “military-style training centers” where they are turned into coerced factory workers:

Beijing has set quotas for the mass transfer of rural laborers within and to other parts of China, according to over a hundred state media reports, policy documents from government bureaus in Tibet and procurement requests released between 2016-2020 and reviewed by Reuters. The quota effort marks a rapid expansion of an initiative designed to provide loyal workers for Chinese industry.

A notice posted to the website of Tibet’s regional government website last month said over half a million people were trained as part of the project in the first seven months of 2020 – around 15% of the region’s population. Of this total, almost 50,000 have been transferred into jobs within Tibet, and several thousand have been sent to other parts of China. Many end up in low paid work, including textile manufacturing, construction and agriculture. [Source]

Read more about the exchange of authoritarian policies between China’s peripheral regions via CDT.

Facing growing Western backlash against rights abuses in Xinjiang, a recently published Chinese white paper suggests there may be growing unease in Beijing about its forced labor programs. The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison reports that the issuing of the white paper might indicate anxieties within the CCP about the economic consequences of its forced labor initiative:

“My hunch is that the CCP issued the white paper because it fears economic consequences,” said Timothy Grose, a professor of China studies with expertise in ethnic policy at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana.

“Reports of forced labor have circulated for over a year, so the timing of this white paper is interesting … Quite possibly, the CCP fears other countries will impose similar [import bans].” [Source]

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