US President Joe Biden has signed a law banning the import of many products from the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. In addition, companies must demonstrate that the goods were not made through forced labour by the Uyghur minority. This is a first in the commercial field.
The bill was passed unanimously earlier this month in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, across party lines. The issue is, therefore, very much alive among Democrats and Republicans alike. Now President Joe Biden has signed the law and is therefore coming into effect.
Specifically, companies that import goods from China into the United States must now demonstrate that their products are not made by Uyghurs and other minorities in captivity.
Xinjiang (or Chinese Turkestan as it used to be called) is located in Central Asia in western China along the ancient Silk Road. The local Muslim population includes Turkic-speaking peoples such as Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, but is increasingly oppressed by the Chinese communist regime. In Xinjiang, a million Uyghurs and related people are said to be held in “re-education camps” where they are forced to perform forced labour. According to human rights organisations, this is rather a modern form of slavery.
The passing of the new law was remarkable, as several companies had lobbied not to pass the law, fearing it would further disrupt the supply chain, already severely disrupted by a coronavirus.
The new law is remarkable, according to Kevin Verbelen, International Trade expert of the federation of metal and IT companies Agoria, this morning in “The morning” on Radio 1. It reminds him of Flemish sanctions imposed on products that are made in Jewish colonies in occupied Palestinian territory or the “clean clothes” campaign, where poor working conditions are highlighted.
According to Verbelen, this mainly concerns the import of cotton – which is grown on a large scale in Xinjiang – but also tomatoes and raw materials for solar panels. The problem with this is that it is very difficult to determine whether, for example, cotton has been picked by forced labourers.
Verbelen also places the law in a broader context of a more protective policy of the US and the EU of their economies against Chinese imports. That was already the case under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden is building on that. The European Union also wants to become less dependent on suppliers from China or elsewhere in certain strategic markets.
Biden is not alone with the Xinjiang issue, however. In March, the European Union already imposed sanctions against Chinese officials involved in the repression of the Uyghurs. This concerns an entry ban or the blocking of bank balances.