This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in … [+]
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A new law that bans the import of goods produced with forced labor in the Xinjiang, China, presumes that goods manufactured there or that include raw materials from that region deploy forced labor for members of the Uyghur community. The law, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, empowers the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to oversee enforcement.
This sweeping new law poses especially serious challenges to companies importing clothing or solar panels into the U.S., because Xinjiang cotton and polysilicon are so widely used in their manufacture. A recent report published by the Department of Homeland Security offers early guidance on how the federal government intends to apply this law and its need for greater resources. While it remains to be seen how effectively the U.S. government will be able to enforce the new law, its adoption reflects the coming together of three significant factors.
First is the dramatic worsening of human rights in China and especially in Xinjiang province. Located in Western China, Xinjiang is the home of 11 million Uyghurs, a Turkic minority whose language, religion and culture are distinctly different from the Han Chinese majority. The Uyghurs have long faced official discrimination by Chinese authorities, but official persecution has intensified greatly in recent years.
Tensions have been brewing in Xinjiang since the early 1990s, when small secessionist groups like the Turkistan Islamic Party took up arms and called for Xinjiang to become an independent state. Their sporadic attacks against government targets and civilians led the Chinese government to greatly expand their security operations and surveillance presence.
In recent years the nature and scope of the government’s response have changed dramatically. Chinese authorities have detained more than one million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, often without formal charge. The government has subjected hundreds of thousands of people to forced labor, especially in the agricultural sector.
These abuses have been well documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum — as well as two recent books and the BBC report “Xinjiang Police Files.”
In the last days of the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department declared that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Two months after the Biden administration took office, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed this determination.
The second factor that led to the enactment of this law is the deterioration of U.S.-China, especially since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 and begain rolling back the clock, eroding decades of greater economic and political engagement between China and the West.
Xi’s bellicose threats against Taiwan, attacks on democratic institutions in Hong Kong and campaign against the Uyghurs all have served to inflame U.S.-China relations. These growing tensions have significantly affected the political environment in the U.S. and helped proposals like the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to garner wide bipartisan support. At a time when bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress is in short supply, this legislation passed the …….