US begins banning imports from Chinese firms in Xinjiang over abuse of its Uighur Muslims

The US flag is seen next to the Chinese Flag in Beijing | representational image | Nelson Ching | Bloomberg

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Washington: The Trump administration said it has banned imports from three companies in the Xinjiang region of China over Beijing’s alleged repression of the Uighur Muslim minority group, and it plans to add curbs on six more firms and target cotton, textiles and tomatoes from the area.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Aug. 11 issued a so-called withhold release order — which it uses to combat forced labor in global supply chains — against Hero Vast Group for using “convict labor and forced labor to produce the garments it manufactures,” CBP said in a statement Tuesday. It issued similar orders against Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co. on June 17 and Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories Co. on May 1, it said.

The orders against the six other companies — three that operate in the cotton, textile and apparel industries, one in computer parts and two in hair products — will come by the end of this fiscal year, the CBP said.

The measures could have a broad impact on the textile industry, which relies heavily on Chinese cotton. Xinjiang produces more than 80% of China’s cotton and the U.S. imports some 30% of its apparel from China, according to a report published last October by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As many as 1 million Uighurs have been detained in camps that the Beijing government calls “voluntary education centers.” Those not in the camps live under pervasive surveillance, like facial recognition scans when entering markets for gas stations. Officials have also banned “abnormal beards,” religious names for children and observing the traditional day-time fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The U.S. government is taking action to address the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive policies in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China,” the department said. On the plan to issue an order against any cotton, textiles or tomatoes from Xinjiang, it said that the party and its state-owned enterprises “maintain a pervasive scheme within the XUAR that imposes forced labor in the growing, harvesting and production of these products.”

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, denied Tuesday that Beijing had set up re-education camps, calling them vocational and educational training centers lawfully established to prevent terrorism and radicalization. He wasn’t specifically referring to the report on the possible ban from the Trump administration.

“For more than three consecutive years, there hasn’t been violent terrorist incidents in Xinjiang,” Zhao said. “And by the end of 2019, all the trainees have finished their courses, and were stably employed. They have been living a tranquil life.”

Xinjiang is China’s top cotton-producing region, accounting for more than 80% of total output. While China doesn’t export the fiber, its domestic textiles industry relies on Xinjiang cotton to supplement supplies for its garment industry. Meanwhile, the U.S. makes up about 30% of imports by China, the world’s biggest buyer of the fiber.

The other companies that face bans this fiscal year are:

  • The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which the CBP said “is an economic and paramilitary organization that directly reports to the Chinese Communist Party” that the CCP uses as “a key vehicle to oppress ethnic and religious minorities” in Xinjiang
  • Xinjiang Junggar Cotton and Linen Co. and its subsidiaries, which the CBP said “uses prison labor to produce cotton”
  • Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co.
  • Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing Co. and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Co.
  • Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center, which the CBP said provides prison labor and allegedly “involves situations of arbitrary mass detention of Uighur and other Muslim ethnic minorities and force them to work in labor-intensive industries while receiving political indoctrination.”
  • Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park

The U.S. Department of Commerce has added more than a dozen Chinese companies to its Entity List on human rights violations, meaning the companies face restrictions in accessing U.S.-origin technology and commodities. They included Nanjing Synergy Textiles Co. in July.

China’s textiles industry, which had been hit along with global peers by the coronavirus, showed a modest recovery in recent months. Textiles and apparel exports reached $56.5 billion in the first seven months of this year.

Rumors of the ban have been circulating in China’s textile industry for two years, and it may have a limited impact on the industry because some of the relevant companies have moved their production facilities to Vietnam, said Wu Faxin, a veteran cotton trader with industry website China isn’t a big cotton yarn or cloth exporter to the U.S., but instead ships lots of chemical fiber products, he said.

Possible retaliation

China may retaliate with countermeasures, such as adopting high tariffs on U.S. cotton or not allocating import quotas to U.S. supplies, Wu said.

China’s treatment of Uighurs has provoked an international outcry, and the Treasury Department has sanctioned four Chinese officials linked to the region, limiting their travel to the U.S. and blocking any financial ties.

Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated over Xinjiang and other issues, including the crackdown on pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and recriminations over the spread of the coronavirus.

With less than two months before the U.S. election, President Donald Trump has made confrontation with the Chinese government and denunciations of the country a central part of his campaign. On Monday, during a news conference at the White House, Trump vowed to reduce U.S. economic ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

“We’re going to end our reliance on China because we can’t rely on China and I don’t want them building a military like they’re building right now and they’re using our money to build it,” he said. –Bloomberg 

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