June 25 (UPI) -- The White House on Thursday announced a slew of measures to prevent the forced labor of China's Muslim minority Uighurs from entering the U.S. supply chain, specifically targeting companies in Xinjiang region that produce components and materials used in solar panels.
The moves are expected to worsen already strained ties between Washington and Beijing and possibly incite retaliation as China vehemently rejects the United States' accusation that it is committing genocide against its Uighur citizens.
Washington has repeatedly accused Beijing of interning more than a million Uighurs and other minorities in camps in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwestern China where they are subjected to human rights violations including forced sterilization, disappearances and labor.
Beijing has rebuked the charges as attempts to meddle in its internal affairs, stating the camps are for educational purposes to stamp out extremism and terrorism. The White House said in a statement Thursday that the People's Republic of China's forced labor in Xinjiang is "an affront to human dignity and an example of the PRC's unfair economic practices."
In response, the Biden administration ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prohibit the import of products from XUAR-based Hosine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., by detaining shipments of silica-based products it and its subsidiaries produce. Silica, a raw material, is used to make components in solar panels and other electronics.
"This Withhold Release Order demonstrates we continue to protect human rights and international labor standards and promote a more fair and competitive global marketplace by fulfilling the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to ending forced labor," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
The United States has previously banned the entry of other products from Xinjiang, including those made of tomato and cotton as well as products produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and the Dalian Ocean Fishing Co., Ltd. A total of 35 of the 49 active WROs affect Chinese products including 11 targeting those from Xinjiang.
CBP said the prohibition on Hosine followed an investigation that identified the use of intimidation and threats as well as the restriction of movement of those producing its silica-based products.
"Forced labor is a human rights abuse that hurts vulnerable workers, weakens the global economy and exposes consumers to unethically made merchandise," said Tony Miller, a CBP senior official.
The Commerce Department also added Hosine along with four other Xinjiang companies to an Entity List over their use of forced labor, barring them from purchasing goods, such as software and technology, from U.S. companies.
Xinjiang Daqo New Energy Co., Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals Co., Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology Co. and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps were the other four Chinese companies blacklisted for a total of 53 parties accused of committing human rights abuses against the ethnic minority in Xinjiang, 15 of which for the use of forced labor.
"The United States is committed to employing all of its tools, including export controls, to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor and technology is not misused in to abuse human rights," Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement.
The Department of Labor also took the unprecedented move to update its list of goods produced by child or forced labor on Thursday to include China-made polysilicon, a material primarily used to produce solar panels. Until this move, the department has updated that list semi-annually.
It said these "extraordinary measures" were in response to the severity of the human rights situation in Xinjiang.
"The world and the American people cannot abide the presence of goods made under the exploitative conditions experienced by Uighur and other ethnic minority groups in its global supply chains," Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.
Cotton, garments, footwear, electronics, gloves, hair products, textiles, thread and yarn and tomato products from Xinjiang were already on the list, which includes 156 goods from 77 countries.
Ahead of the whole-of-government move targeting Xinjiang products, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a regular press conference Thursday that the allegations of forced labor and genocide were "the biggest lies of the century."
The United States' economic sanctions on Xinjiang products, he said, is only a disguise for its attempt to hobble the industrial development of the region.
"What it does is detrimental to Xinjiang people's rights to subsistence and development, and also exposes that what they are after is not facts, truth or Xinjiang people's well-being, but to create 'forced unemployment' and 'forced poverty' to mess up Xinjiang and contain China's development," he said. "China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies."
The Solar Energy Industries Association said in a statement that the move was not unexpected but "fully supported" by its members.
"The fact is, we do not have transparency into supply chains in the Xinjiang region, and there is too much risk in operating there," the organization comprised of some 1,000 member companies said. "For that reason, in October, we began calling on solar companies to leave the region."
The White House made it move two weeks after House Democrats sent a letter to CBP urging it to block polysilicon products from Xinjiang.
"We believe it is time to act," they said.