US legislation would ban products from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns

Holocaust Memorial Museum said Chinese government guilty of 'crimes against humanity' last week

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Internment camp in Atush, Xinjiang province, Dec. 3, 2018.

Internment camp in Atush, Xinjiang province, Dec. 3, 2018. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A bipartisan bill to ban the import of products from Xinjiang due to reports of China's persecuted Uyghur minority being forced into labor was introduced to the U.S House of Representatives on Wednesday (March 11), the latest in a flurry of legislation aimed at taking China to task for its abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), an outspoken human rights advocate and the chair of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, submitted the bill on Wednesday (March 11), and it was referred to the Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means, Judiciary, and Financial Services committees for review. It was co-sponsored by six Republicans and five Democrats, reflecting the broad bipartisan support similar legislation has enjoyed in Congress in recent years.

The bill comes on the heels of a report last month by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute contending that since 2017, many Uyghurs deemed to have "graduated" from their "re-education" camps — where an estimated more than one million have been subject to neglect, torture, forced sterilization, and even in some cases execution — are being quietly transferred into factories both inside and outside Xinjiang for exploitation in prison-like conditions.

The institute identified "foreign and Chinese companies directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through potentially abusive labour transfer programs." It went on to list 83 major companies, many of them household names such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Google, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Huawei, Adidas, and ASUS.

McGovern announced the new bill on March 5 at an event titled "China's Systematic Persecution of Uyghurs," hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, Radio Free Asia reported.

Drawing a parallel with Nazi Germany's campaign against European Jews, which resulted in the murder of six million between 1941 and 1945, McGovern said, "If there is one lesson to be learned from the Holocaust, let it be that we must never, ever remain silent in moments of great injustice. There can be no doubt what the Chinese government is trying to do: stamp out the Uyghur identity."

Speaking at the event, Naomi Kikoler, director of the museum's Simon-Sjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide said China's treatment of the ethnic Uyghur minority was tantamount to "crimes against humanity."

"Perpetrators usually find some rationale for their crimes," she said. "The Chinese government claims to be fighting terrorism or eradicating poverty — but these are goals that cannot possibly be reached by the systematic persecution of the Uyghur population."

A bill condemning China's treatment of Xinjiang's Muslim minorities, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019, was passed in the Senate last December by a vote of 407 to 1. The House version is currently awaiting approval in the relevant committees.