The U.S. Senate approved legislation on Dec. 16 to ban all imports from China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing is holding more than 1 million Uyghurs in internment camps, over forced labor concerns. The measure is now headed to the White House, where President Joe Biden has said he’ll sign it into law.
The move complements a series of actions by the Biden administration aimed at holding the Chinese regime accountable over its repression in Xinjiang, which Washington has labeled as a genocide. The Senate approved the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act by unanimous consent two days after the House approved it with a unanimous voice vote.
The legislation rushed through Congress this week after lawmakers agreed on a compromise that eliminated differences between measures introduced in the House and Senate.
Republicans and Democrats in the two chambers had been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. The dispute complicated the approval of the annual National Defense Authorization Act and has held up the Senate’s confirmation of some of Biden’s ambassadorial nominees, including his selection of Nicholas Burns to be the ambassador to China.
As they cleared the way for the Uyghur legislation’s approval on Dec. 16, lawmakers also agreed to allow a vote later in the day on at least a few of Biden’s nominees for diplomatic positions, including Burns.
The legislation creates a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang are made with forced labor, which in effect bars all such imports. Products from the region will only be allowed into the United States if the government determines that there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that they weren’t made with forced labor.
“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains. And, frankly, they should have no concerns about this law,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on the Senate floor. “For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans—every one of us, frankly—unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
The U.S. government has already banned all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns. Imports from several Xinjiang solar panel material manufacturers were also barred by the Biden administration after reports that some companies in the region were using forced Uyghur labor. Xinjiang supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai praised the legislation.
“We have a moral and economic imperative to eliminate this practice from our global supply chains, including those that run through Xinjiang, China, and exploit Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities,” Tai said in a statement.
The U.S. government also slapped investment and trade restrictions on Dec. 16 on dozens of Chinese companies, including those that aid in Beijing’s oppression in Xinjiang and help the Chinese military.
Earlier this month, Biden announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest against the atrocities in Xinjiang, a move that spurred several allies, including the UK and Canada, to follow suit.
Reuters contributed to this report.