The Trump administration issued new import restrictions on Monday against Chinese companies it accuses of using slave labor, including products from suspected mass prison camps in China’s western Xinjiang region.
Five companies or industrial parks in Xinjiang and one company in eastern Anhui province, which make apparel, cotton, computer and hair products, have been named in the new order by United States Customs and Border Protection (US CBP).
One of Xinjiang’s “vocational skills education and training centers” is also named in the order, a name used euphemistically by Beijing to refer to the large re-education camps where inmates from Muslim minorities are allegedly detained, made to pledge loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, and work as free or low-cost forced labor in factories and nearby facilities.
“This is not a vocational center, it is a concentration camp,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland. “A place where religious and ethnic minorities are subject to abuse and forced to work in heinous conditions with no recourse and no freedom. This is modern day slavery.”
The agency issued “Withhold Release Orders” for all six Chinese entities, which are intended to prevent goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from entering the US. The orders allow Customs and Border Protection to detain shipments at US ports and gives companies the opportunity to export their shipments or demonstrate that the merchandise was not produced with forced labor.
The new US actions fell short of what some had expected to be a more widespread ban on imports from China, which would have targeted all cotton and tomato products exported from the Xinjiang region to the US. Cuccinelli said that stronger action was still under review by the US administration.
“Because of its unique nature applying to a region, as opposed to a company or a facility, we are giving that more legal analysis,” he said, adding that the agency wants to ensure “once we proceed that it will stick.”
Cuccinelli denied that the delay in the regional order had anything to do with concerns about hurting the US-China trade deal.
US action on Xinjiang
The US trade action is the latest in a series of steps by the Trump administration targeting Chinese authorities and businesses over allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Up to 2 million Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have been imprisoned in mass re-education centers, including huge numbers of the Uyghur people, according to the US State Department, with reports emerging from the camps of abuse, indoctrination and sterilization.
The Chinese government has described the centers as voluntary and part of a wide-reaching deradicalization campaign.
In July, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on several Xinjiang officials, including Chen Quanguo, the region’s Communist Party secretary, saying the US would “not stand idly by as the (Chinese Communist Party) carries out human rights abuses.”
One month earlier, US President Donald Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Act into law, condemning the Chinese Communist Party for human rights abuses in the region.
Recently, US CBP has stepped up its efforts targeting forced labor – issuing 12 orders in fiscal year 2020, including eight focused on goods from China.
The new orders targeting forced labor in China followed two years of investigations by US CBP, according to Mark Morgan, the senior official performing the duties of the commissioner at the US CBP.
“It’s been the most aggressive year in using CBP’s authorities to fight forced labor in its history that I know of,” said Cuccinelli.