The Biden administration warned businesses with supply chains and investments in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang on Wednesday that they could face legal consequences if they don’t find other options, as the US increases pressure on Beijing over its use of forced labour and other human rights violations against its Uighur Muslim citizens.
The US has frequently accused China of genocide in Xinjiang, most recently in a State Department report on global crimes released on Monday.
Since at least 2017, China has been accused by Western nations of detaining over a million Uighur and other Muslim minority residents in Xinjiang camps, where they are subjected to forced labour, sterilisation, and disappearances. The Asian nation fiercely denies the charges, claiming the camps are for re-education to combat terrorism, while opponents claim Beijing is seeking to obliterate their culture in order to compel integration.
Along with its repeated allegations, the US has taken a number of punitive measures against China for its actions in Xinjiang, including penalties and a ban on items from the area entering the nation.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the departments of State, Commerce and Homeland Security and the Treasury warned companies that if they continue to do business in Xinjiang they “could run a high risk of violating U.S. law.”
“The People’s Republic of China government continues its horrific abuses in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and elsewhere in China, targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz who are predominately Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups,” the departments said. “These abuses include widespread state-sponsored forced labor and intrusive surveillance, forced population control measures and separation of children from families, mass detention and other human rights abuses amidst ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.”
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement Tuesday that the warning underscores the Biden administration’s commitment to holding China to account. She also praised ally nations who have committed to banning the import of goods from Xinjiang, including Canada and Mexico.
The European Union on Tuesday also issued its own business guidance to counter forced labor in the global supply chain.
“I want to commend our allies for sending a clear sign that there is no place of forced labor in a fair, rules-based international trading system,” she said.
The warning, which is an update to one made to businesses last July, was issued after the Commerce Department on Friday added 14 Chinese companies to its Entity List over their enabling of China’s repression campaign in Xinjiang. In late June, the White House instructed US Customs and Border Protection to restrict the import of goods used in solar panels that they claim are made using Uighur forced labour.
China has yet to respond to the warning, although foreign ministry officials often criticise the punitive measures as interfering in its domestic affairs.