Uighur human rights Bill to move ahead in US House of Representatives, Democrat says

Members of the Uighur community holding a rally at the US State Department in Washington DC on Sept 15, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A senior Democrat said the US House of Representatives is poised to take up legislation related to human rights in China next week, potentially including a Bill that would target goods produced in the Xinjiang region.

"I believe very strongly that we will move forward on it," House Rules Chair Jim McGovern said after leaving a meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.

"Next week is an important week for human rights - International Human Rights Day," he added, "and we think it's important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights and the Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act, we want to see that get over the finish line in some form."

Mr McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, is the chief sponsor of the Uighur Bill and he said it could move as part of a package of legislation.

A similar Bill in the Senate sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley has already passed the Senate, but action in the House had been stalled.

Mr Rubio has been threatening to hold up a must-pass defence policy Bill unless it got included on that legislation as a way to force the House to act.

Mr Rubio suggested that the administration had been leaning on Democrats to delay the Uighur measure, while Mr Merkley said there was some "hesitancy" on the administration's part and "I disagree with it."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the administration was offering "technical assistance on the legislation."

"It's pretty common for the White House to work with Congress on either technical assistance or other assistance," Ms Psaki said on Nov 12. "We want to make sure any bill is implementable."

Mr McGovern said he's not aware of White House concerns or objections.

"Not that they've talked to me about," he said.

Ms Pelosi on Thursday (Dec 2) said she backed the House and Senate passing "the strongest possible Uighur bill."

"As I said for over 30 years, I have been considered the most disliked - they use stronger words than that - person in China because of my assault on their human-rights violations," she said.

The House Bill requires the US Department of Homeland Security to create a list of entities that collaborate with the Chinese government in the repression of the Uighurs, a predominately Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang, and other groups.

Beijing has denied such accusations.

It also contains a "rebuttable presumption" that assumes all goods were made with forced labour unless the commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection gives an exception.

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