US bans imports of forced labor products from Xinjiang

This is a world first, which could herald the end of cotton and tomato imports from the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the United States. US President Joe Biden on Thursday, December 23, signed a law prohibiting the purchase of products believed to be the result of forced labor by Uighurs in China. In addition, the White House has already warned American companies tempted to give in to Beijing.

The law requires that special attention be paid to imports of three products: cotton, of which Xinjiang is one of the world’s major producers; tomatoes, also mass produced in the region; and polysilicon, a material used in the production of photovoltaic panels. For American companies, the only way to escape the ban is to prove to customs officials that the products were not manufactured in whole or in part by forced labor.

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Beijing is accused by Western countries of massively locking the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking community in western China, in large labor camps.

This law gives the government “New tools to prevent the entry into the territory of products made by forced labor in Xinjiang and to hold accountable the people and entities behind these abuses”Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Thursday, calling on the Chinese government to end “To genocide and crimes against humanity”.

Beijing blasted this text on Friday accusing the United States of “Violate international law” and of “Slanderer” China. In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Washington to “Immediately fix your mistakes”, threatening the United States with reprisals otherwise.

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Fears of disruption of world trade

In rare unanimity, the Senate voted on December 16 for this text, carried by both Democrats and Republicans, supporters of an aggressive policy against Beijing. This vote came despite a lobbying campaign by American companies, some of which are very dependent on their supply from China, and which are shaking the scarecrow of additional disruptions to global trade, already disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This measurement is “The most important and effective taken so far to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its use of forced labor”, commented Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, one of the authors of the bill, whom the White House thanked in a statement announcing the signing of the bill.

During the legislative process, the Republican opposition criticized the White House for seeking to slow down the text. On Thursday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about the relative discretion with which Mr. Biden, who makes rivalry with China the major axis of his foreign policy, signed the text.

Its services have only broadcast a photo of the signature on Twitter, while the same day the president signed live in front of the cameras another law, intended to support research against a rare neurodegenerative disease. “Sometimes he signs the laws without the cameras, sometimes in front of the cameras. We support this text and we have led the offensive around the world to denounce human rights violations ”, she replied.

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Imbroglio around Intel

But the implementation of the law, and in general the United States’ offensive against certain Chinese economic interests, could cause friction, as a controversy surrounding the American semiconductor giant Intel showed on Thursday. In the wake of the passage of the law in the Senate, and after a wave of US sanctions against Chinese companies, Intel had sent a letter to its suppliers asking them to avoid sourcing in the region.

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This sparked an uproar in China, which the chipmaker then tried to calm down with a statement posted on Chinese social network Weibo: “Our original intention was to ensure compliance with US laws (…). We apologize for the problems caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public. “

“We believe that the private sector and the international community should oppose China’s instrumentalisation of their markets to stifle support for human rights.”, commented Mme Psaki, when asked about this Intel press release.

“We also believe that American companies should never feel the need to apologize for defending basic human rights or for opposing repression.”, added the spokesperson for the US executive.

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The World with AFP

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US bans imports of forced labor products from Xinjiang