US ramps up warnings of business risks in China's Xinjiang region

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Xinjiang's Kashgar in May 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US government on Tuesday (July 13) strengthened its warnings to businesses about the growing risks of having supply chain and investment links to China's Xinjiang region, citing forced labour and human rights abuses there.

"Given the severity and extent of these abuses, businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating US law," the State Department said in a statement.

Signalling broader US government coordination on the issue, the Department of Labour and the US Trade Representative's Office joined in issuing the updated advisory, first released on July 1, 2020 under the Trump administration by the State, Commerce, Homeland Security and Treasury departments.

The new advisory strengthens warnings to US companies, noting they are at risk of violating US law if their operations are linked even "indirectly" to the Chinese government's "vast and growing surveillance network" in Xinjiang. The warning also applies to financial support from venture capital and private equity firms.

It also summarised previously announced actions taken by the Biden administration to address alleged forced labour and rights abuses in Xinjiang, including a US Customs and Border Protection ban on some solar product imports, and sanctions on Xinjiang companies and entities.

On Friday, the administration added 14 Chinese companies and other entities to its economic blacklist over alleged human rights abuses and high-tech surveillance in Xinjiang.

The advisory said China's government continues "horrific abuses" in Xinjiang and elsewhere "targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and ethnic Kyrgyz who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups."

China denies abuses and says it has established vocational training centres in Xinjiang to address religious extremism.

USTR Katherine Tai praised Canada, Mexico and other US partners and allies for committing to ban the import of goods made with forced labour.

"I want to commend our allies for sending a clear sign that there is no place for forced labour in a fair, rules-based international trading system," she said in a statement.

President Joe Biden has sought to enlist help from US allies to hold Beijing accountable for human rights abuses and what the White House says are increasingly coercive foreign and trade policies.

The Treasury Department declined to comment on a Financial Times report that the United States would impose more sanctions this week in response to China's crackdowns in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Boards with party slogans surround the site of the Jiaman Mosque in Qira, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in April 2021. The Chinese characters collectively read: "Have heartfelt gratitude for the loving care of the Party with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core" PHOTO: REUTERS

A source told Reuters the administration could announce a similar business advisory as soon as Friday, based on deteriorating conditions in Hong Kong.

Beijing is "denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong's autonomy and democratic institutions and processes," a senior administration official told Reuters.

"We seek to ensure businesses can operate in stable, predictable, and fair regulatory environments around the world - and rule of law risks that were formerly limited to mainland China are now increasingly a concern in Hong Kong," the official said.

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