Congress is Considering a Xinjiang Import Ban Again

By Matthew McMullan
Feb 19 2021 |
A Uyghur protest in Washington, DC in 2015. Elvert Barnes

This time, there’s the State Department’s genocide label to consider.

A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives would ban all imports from the Xinjiang region of China, unless they’re proven not to have been made using forced labor.

It’s a new bill for this Congress, to be clear. A very similar bill was passed in the House last October on a 406-3 vote before it stalled in the Senate. The Senate is now considering a version of this legislation too.

We’ve since had an election, and thus a new Congress, but support for this legislation is likely to remain high. It’s not like the new Congressional class was elected on the promise of dismissing alleged Chinese human rights abuses – among them forced labor, sexual violence, forced denunciation of religion and culture, and political indoctrination – against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in that country’s northwest. And, in an even more tangible sign that the American pressure isn’t about to let up, the Biden administration is taking its sweet time reviewing the Trump administration’s eleventh-hour decision to declare the situation in Xinjiang a genocide. The new U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has already agreed with his predecessor’s declaration. He even said in his confirmation hearing that a Xinjiang import ban would be a potential next step.

And well, here we are – an import ban is again being considered by Congress. So what to do now? China has an enormous economy that’s only getting more enormous, which gives it a lot of weight in international affairs. Xinjiang is tied directly into that economy; global supply chains for well-known brands stretch into this Chinese province, which today increasingly appears to be a giant police state. A law professor made the argument last month (hat tip to “attractive man” George Will) in a Wall Street Journal opinion that the designation basically demands further action: “Anything resembling business as usual,” he writes, “will make a joke out of genocide.” He writes:

The State Department has made a finding of genocide only six times, two of them in the past quarter-century: regarding Islamic State atrocities against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq (2016) and Sudan’s campaign in Darfur (2011). But ISIS and Sudan weren’t exactly major U.S. trading partners.

That’s right, ISIS and Sudan weren’t major partners. China is. That’s why Nike, Apple, and Coca-Cola didn’t try to weaken genocide findings against Sudan and Syria – they just tried to weaken the Xinjiang export ban bill before the last Congress.

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Washington shouldn’t make a joke out of this and the Xinjiang import ban would be a clear indication that it isn’t. Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to censor discussion of what’s going on out there, some Chinese people are beginning to take it seriously too. We’re going to keep an eye on the import ban legislation as it progresses.

For more on what is happening in Xinjiang, listen to AAM President Scott Paul’s interview with activist Rushan Abbas, whose sister is imprisoned in an indoctrination camp. In this episode, Scott Paul also chats with Penelope Kyristsis of the Worker Rights Consortium, who explains how western brands are fueling this genocide.