China and Russia rebuffed U.S. accusations of poor management of human trafficking as “arbitrary” and having “unacceptable methodology” on Thursday.
The day before, the U.S. State Department had released a Trafficking in Persons report that downgraded China and Russia from the Tier 2-Watchlist to Tier 3, joining the likes of Sudan, North Korea, Syria, and Iran. The term human trafficking includes forced child labor, involuntary domestic servitude, debt bondage, child soldiers, and sex trafficking.
Russia claimed that the U.S. had grouped countries in tiers based on how friendly they were with Washington, according to a statement from the Russian foreign ministry human rights delegate Konstatin Dolgov who spoke of his indignation that the issue was even being raised.
According to the State Department website, tier placement is determined by the extent to which a country fights human trafficking within its borders and how much human trafficking proliferates through accounts from American diplomats and agencies. The U.S. report noted that China and Russia had made minimal efforts to counter human trafficking, but added that those attempts were “ad-hoc” and lacked a concrete system for punishing all forms of trafficking.
The new status change is accompanied by a package of potential U.S. sanctions on China and Russia. The U.S. can withhold non-humanitarian and non-trade foreign assistance and object to any assistance offered by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the U.S. should be more objective and stop making “arbitrary judgments.”
The report pointed to China’s one-child policy, the common practice of forced abortions and a culture of valuing sons over daughters as having created a gender imbalance that has exacerbated the numbers of foreign brides and prostitutes.
Another contributor to the Tier-3 ranking was Chinese labor camps, known as laogai, where dissidents are re-educated through forced labor in making stuffed animals, packaged foods, and other products in unhygienic and extreme conditions.
The rank change is meant as a call to action, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. He said in a live conference on Wednesday that Tier-3 countries are twice as likely to take a harsher stance on human trafficking.