The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 1 reintroduced a bill with bipartisan backing that would make it illegal to import into the United States all goods from China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, unless it can prove that forced labor was not involved in their production.
The revised version of the bill that passed the House 406–3 in the previous Congress last September is similar to the Senate version—the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (pdf), which was reintroduced last month.
It would grant President Joe Biden the authority to place sanctions against any individual responsible for slave labor practices forced upon the region’s ethnic Uyghurs, the majority of whom practice Islam.
The House Bill would also require companies listed in the United States to provide financial disclosures on its interaction with Chinese firms and entities engaged in abuses, a provision not included in the Senate version.
Beijing’s repression of Uyghurs, perpetrated through its network of internment camps and mass surveillance system, has drawn international condemnation. According to an archived U.S. State Department website estimate, more than a million Uyghurs and other minority groups are held without charge in such facilities.
The Trump administration placed sanctions on entities and individuals responsible for atrocities in the region. It also imposed a ban on all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over forced labor practices.
Xinjiang’s economy is “built upon a foundation of forced labor and repression,” said Jim McGovern, the U.S. representative and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, on reintroducing the bill.
“We have watched in horror as the Chinese government first created, and then expanded a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps targeting Uighurs and Muslim minorities,” he said.
“Many U.S., international, and Chinese corporations are complicit in the exploitation of forced labor and these products continue to make their way into global supply chains and our country. It is long past time for the Congress to act,” he added.
President Joe Biden and his administration have so far been vocal in condemning the Chinese regime for its human rights abuses.
During a town hall in Wisconsin on Feb. 16, Biden warned that Beijing would face “repercussions” for its actions, warning that the United States would reassert its role in speaking up for human rights at the United Nations and other agencies.
The president however was criticized for saying that “culturally, there are different norms in each country” when asked about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) repression of Uyghurs.
A day before leaving office, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Chinese regime’s persecution of Uyghurs as genocide and “crimes against humanity.” The Biden administration has agreed with the designation.
Newly appointed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken however has said the new administration has some reservations about former President Donald Trump’s approach to China.
“Let me just say that I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” Blinken told the Senate foreign relations panel during his confirmation hearing. “I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.”
Emel Akan and Reuters contributed to this report.