The United States banned all products produced in China’s western Xinjiang region on Tuesday, following the enactment of a forced labor law signed by President Joe Biden last year.
The United States already had several restrictions on imports from Xinjiang, where human rights groups say Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities have faced a range of human rights abuses, including mass internment in camps.
Under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed in late 2021, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will now block all imports into the region . It will also block products made by companies outside the region whose ties to Xinjiang companies or the Xinjiang government make them complicit, in the Commerce Department’s view, in forced labor practices.
“Importers must demonstrate to authorities with ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that the goods are not produced by forced labor if they wish to resume imports,” CBP said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the ban underscores the Biden administration’s commitment to combating forced labor everywhere.
“We are bringing together our allies and partners to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labor, to speak out against the atrocities in Xinjiang, and to join us in calling on the (PRC) government to stop an immediate end to the atrocities. and human rights abuses, including forced labor,” said Blinken.
China’s Commerce Ministry responded Tuesday by saying it “resolutely opposes” the ban, which it said “seriously harms the interests of businesses and consumers in both countries.”
“The truth is that Chinese laws explicitly prohibit forced labor,” the ministry said, adding that China will take “necessary actions” to protect its national interests.
CBP has stepped up efforts in recent years to block Xinjiang products, under both the Trump and Biden administrations. In 2020, the US government announced that it would block cotton imports from Xinjiang, based on other orders restricting such products from entering the US.
The State Department has estimated that since 2017, as many as two million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic groups have been incarcerated in a shadowy network of internment camps where they are reportedly “subjected to torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, such as physical and sexual abuse, forced labor and death.”
China described the facilities as “vocational training centers” and stated that in 2019 such centers had been closed. Officials have consistently denied all allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Western governments and human rights organizations have charged that minorities in the region have been subjected to forced labor through job-creation schemes that the Chinese government says are aimed at “poverty alleviation.” Workers who have participated in those work programs told CNN that if they didn’t take the jobs offered to them, for a fraction of the usual pay rate, they were warned they would be sent to camps.