US inciting instability with proposed ban of Xinjiang imports, says China

BEIJING • China's Foreign Ministry, when asked about reports that the United States may ban some imports from China's Xinjiang region over alleged human rights violations, said this is a pretext to oppress Chinese customers and incite instability.

The US has no right or qualification to intervene, spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily news conference in Beijing yesterday.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have prepared orders to block imports of cotton and tomato products from western China's Xinjiang region over allegations - dismissed by China - that they are produced with forced labour, although a formal announcement has been delayed.

The Trump administration's announcement of the actions, initially expected on Tuesday, has been put off until later this week because of "scheduling issues", a CBP spokesman said.

The cotton and tomato bans, along with five other import bans over alleged Xinjiang forced-labour abuses, would be an unprecedented move by the CBP and are likely to stoke tensions between the world's two largest economies.

The "Withhold Release Orders" allow the CBP to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labour involvement under longstanding US laws aimed at combating human trafficking, child labour and other human rights abuses.

President Donald Trump's administration is ratcheting up pressure on China over its treatment of Xinjiang's Uighur Muslims. The United Nations has said it has credible reports that one million Muslims have been detained in camps in the region, where they are put to work.

China denies mistreatment of the Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centres needed to fight extremism.

CBP executive assistant commissioner Brenda Smith told Reuters the effective import bans would apply to the entire supply chains involving cotton, including cotton yarn, textiles and apparel, as well as tomatoes, tomato paste and other products exported from the region.

"We have reasonable but not conclusive evidence that there is a risk of forced labour in supply chains related to cotton textiles and tomatoes coming out of Xinjiang," Ms Smith said in an interview. "We will continue to work on our investigations to fill in those gaps."

The bans could have far-reaching effects for US retailers and apparel producers, as well as food manufacturers. China produces about 20 per cent of the world's cotton, and most of it comes from Xinjiang. China also is the world's largest importer of cotton, including from the United States.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2020, with the headline US inciting instability with proposed ban of Xinjiang imports, says China. Subscribe