The trade war between US and China seems to have taken yet another turn, as the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would effectively ban imports from China’s Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region due to the suspected use of state-sponsored forced labour there.
The US bans the import of any goods if there is evidence that forced labour was involved in their production.
But the new legislation approved on Tuesday would reverse the 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.
Lawmakers approved the bill, called the Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act, by a vote of 406-3.
The legislation now moves to the Senate. Differences between the chambers’ two versions would have to be reconciled before the bill is sent to the White House for President Donald Trump’s consideration.
Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 per cent of Xinjiang’s population, has long accused China’s authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination. About 7 per cent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, has been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to US officials and UN experts.
Classified documents known as the China Cables, accessed last year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, threw light on how the Chinese government uses technology to control Uighurs worldwide.
China put a million or more Uighurs and other Muslim minorities into detention camps and prisons in Xinjiang over the last three years under President Xi Jinping’s directives to “show absolutely no mercy” in the struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism”, revealed the leaked documents released in US media.
However, China regularly denies such mistreatment and says the camps provide vocational training.
Uighur activists and human rights groups have countered that many of those held are people with advanced degrees and business owners who are influential in their communities and have no need for any special education.
People in the internment camps have described being subjected to forced political indoctrination, torture, beatings, and denial of food and medicine, and say they have been prohibited from practising their religion or speaking their language.
Now, as Beijing denies these accounts, it also refuses to allow independent inspections into the regions, at the same time, which further fuels reports related to China’s atrocities on the minority Muslims.