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US Congress seeks import ban on China’s Xinjiang region over forced labor

Sen. Marco Rubio (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A bipartisan U.S. Congressional commission has introduced legislation to ban imports from the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, where lawmakers say mostly Muslim indigenous people are being forced to work against their will in detention centers and factories.

“These practices in Xinjiang are one of the world’s largest human tragedies. It remains unimaginable, frankly, that this is happening in 2020,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican sponsor of the proposed ban, told reporters on March 12.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the move on March 13, saying the United States should “stop using the human rights issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

The United Nations estimated in 2019 that 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking indigenous people in Xinjiang were being held in what Beijing describes as “counterextremism centers” in the province.

The UN also has said millions more people have been forced into internment camps in China.

China describes the camps as “vocational education centers” aimed at helping people steer clear of terrorism and allowing their reintegration into society.

The newly introduced Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would ban the importing of any goods from Xinjiang unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection has “clear and convincing evidence” that no forced labor was involved.

The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China released a report saying it had seen “credible reports” that goods involving forced labor have come into the United States, including textiles, cell phones, shoes, and tea.

It said major brands such as Coca-Cola, Patagonia, and Nike are suspected of directly or indirectly relying on forced labor.

It is not clear when Congress would take up the newly introduced bill.

Legislation aimed at addressing China’s policies in Xinjiang passed without opposition last year, but the House of Representatives and Senate must still reconcile different versions and send it to President Donald Trump.

The United States already bans products made through slavery.