US House revives Bill to ban goods from Xinjiang

Legislation would allow sanctions on those behind abuse of Muslims in China province

WASHINGTON • The US House of Representatives has reintroduced a bipartisan Bill that would ban imports from China's Xinjiang region unless it is certified that they are not produced with forced labour, and allow further sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for abuses against Muslims.

The updated version of the legislation that passed the House 406-3 in the previous Congress last September is similar to a Senate version reintroduced last month, having been held up in the previous session.

The House Bill would authorise the US president to apply sanctions against anyone responsible for labour trafficking of minority Uighurs or other Muslims in Xinjiang, a leading producer of cotton and cotton products.

It would also require financial disclosures by listed American companies about engagement with Chinese firms and entities engaged in abuses, a provision not included in the Senate version.

"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," said Democratic Representative Jim McGovern in reintroducing the Bill.

He charged that the Xinjiang economy was "built upon a foundation of forced labour and repression". He said: "Many US, international and Chinese corporations are complicit in the exploitation of forced labour and these products continue to make their way into global supply chains and our country. It is long past time for Congress to act."

A United Nations panel said in 2018 that it had received credible reports that at least one million Muslims had been detained in camps in Xinjiang. China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

At the heart of the US Bills is a "rebuttable presumption" that assumes goods from Xinjiang are made with forced labour and banned from the United States unless there is "clear and convincing" evidence to the contrary.

US President Joe Biden's administration has endorsed a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang and said that the US must be prepared to impose costs on those responsible.

Former president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and firms linked to abuses in Xinjiang and also announced a ban on cotton and tomato products from the region.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNBC that the US will keep tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the Trump administration in place for now, but will evaluate how to proceed after a thorough review.

"For the moment, we have kept the tariffs in place that were put in by the Trump administration... and we'll evaluate going forward what we think is appropriate," Dr Yellen told the news network, adding that Washington expected Beijing to adhere to its commitments on trade.

When asked if tariffs worked, Dr Yellen hesitated, then said: "We'll look at that."

The White House last month said it would review all national security measures put in place by Mr Trump, including an interim trade deal with Beijing.

The deal eased tensions between the world's two largest economies after a damaging trade war that US experts estimate led to a peak loss of 245,000 US jobs, but most of the tariffs remain in place on both sides.

China pledged to buy US$200 billion (S$265 billion) in additional US goods and services over two years under the interim deal signed by Mr Trump in January last year, but Beijing fell 42 per cent short of its target for last year, a recent study showed.

"We're in the process of evaluating what our approach should be towards China, but there are a range of issues where we see unfair practices," Dr Yellen told CNBC, citing concerns about China's behaviour on trade, forced technology transfers, and subsidies to high-technology industries.

"We want to make sure that we do address and hold China to its international obligations in these areas," she said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2021, with the headline 'US House revives Bill to ban goods from Xinjiang'. Subscribe