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House reintroduces bill barring Xinjiang imports over forced Uighur labor

Participants wear a masks during a rally against the Communist China government in Osaka, Japan on June 29, 2019. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
Participants wear a masks during a rally against the Communist China government in Osaka, Japan on June 29, 2019. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A Democratic House representative reintroduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday to ban all imports from Xinjiang on the presumption that all goods from the autonomous region were produced by the forced labor of China's Uighur Muslim minority.

James McGovern of Massachusetts, the chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a press release that the economy of northwestern China's Xinjiang region is built upon the forced labor and repression of its Uighur population and the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act will prevent such products from entering the United States.

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"We have watched in horror as the Chinese government first created and then expanded a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps targeting Uighurs and Muslim minorities " he said. "Many U.S., international and Chinese corporations are complicit in the exploitation of forced labor and these products continue to make their way into global supply chains and our country."

"It is long past time for the Congress to act," he said.

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Some 1.5 million Uighurs are believed to have been interned by Beijing in concentration camps in the autonomous region between 2017 and 2020 under the pretext of re-education and stamping out terrorism with many Uighurs having been assigned to factory work in Xinjing and other provinces under forced labor, according to a late January report by the Congressional Research Service.

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The United States and the State Department have also accused the Chinese Communist Party of committing human rights abuses against this population, including unlawful killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention and severe restrictions on religious freedoms, among a long list of other such crimes.

"We need to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for these acts that violate our very conscience," Rep. Thomas Suozzi, D-N.Y., said. "The United States must stand up for its values and make it clear that we will not be complicit in the internment and forced labor of Uighur Muslims."

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Along with the import ban, the bill will arm the president to impose targeted sanctions on those found responsible for trafficking in the forced labor of Uighurs and direct the secretary of state to submit a report to Congress on whether China's treatment of its Muslim minorities amounts to crimes against humanity or genocide, among other moves to prevent such goods from being introduced to the United States.

A similar version of the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act overwhelming passed the House in September but never made it into law, and Free Uighur Now, a student-led coalition, said in a statement it is in support of its reintroduction.

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"Since last September, we've sent over 15,000 emails to Congress urging them to pass this bill swiftly with no change in language," Zaineb Aboudd, co-director of the coalition, said. "Free Uighur Now will continue to advocate tirelessly every step of the way to turn this crucial bill into law."

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The United States has previously passed legislation to punish China over its human rights abuses, and has sanctioned companies and top officials they blame as responsible.

It has also curbed imports from the region, and in January issued a region-wide order to block the import of cotton and tomato products form Xinjiang. A total of 52 People's Republic of China companies and public security entities have been added to a so-called entity list for the connection to the human rights abuses, the Congressional Research Service report tallied.

The Trump administration also said China's treatment of its Uighur population amounted to genocide, which Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State under the Biden administration, said he agreed with during his confirmation hearing.

China has balked at the accusations, demanding the United States stop interfering in its internal business and even sanctioned Trump administration officials on the day they left office over their "selfish political interests and prejudice and hatred against China."

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The bill was reintroduced amid mounting criticism of China over its treatment of its Muslim minority population with Canada debating a motion for the federal government to recognize it as genocide.

"We cannot remain silent," Erin O'Toole, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said in a statement. "Silence only helps those who commit crimes against humanity, never the victims."

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