US hits China with fresh trade sanctions over Uyghur rights

The United States has ramped up pressure on China, with President Joe Biden’s administration a day earlier targeting producers of painkillers that contributed to America’s addiction crisis.

The US Senate unanimously voted to make the United States the first country to ban virtually all imports from China’s Xinjiang region over forced labour concerns.

“We know it’s happening at an alarming, horrific rate with the genocide that we now witness being carried out,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a driver behind the act, which has already passed the House of Representatives, and which the White House says Biden will sign.

After prolonged negotiations to secure its passage, Rubio lifted objections and the Senate confirmed veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China.

Burns, a former ambassador to Greece and NATO, has described China as an “aggressor” and denounced the “genocide” of the Uyghurs, but also expressed a willingness to cooperate on issues such as climate change.

Some US businesses had voiced unease about the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans the import of all goods from the region unless companies offer verifiable proof that production did not involve slavery.

An estimated 20 per cent of garments imported into the US each year include some cotton from Xinjiang.

Rights experts, witnesses and the US government say more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in an effort to root out their Islamic cultural traditions and forcibly assimilate them into China’s Han majority.

Beijing describes the sites as vocational training centres and says it is seeking to reduce the allure of radical Islam following deadly attacks.

Washington has described the campaign as genocide and, along with Australia, Britain and Canada, planned a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games next year over the issue.

On Friday, Beijing said it “firmly opposes” the move and will take “all necessary measures” to protect Chinese companies.

“The US has overstretched the concept of national security and fabricates all kinds of excuses to abuse export control measures to unreasonably suppress Chinese institutions and firms,” said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.

“It has reached a stage where they stop at nothing.”

– High-tech surveillance –
The Biden administration on Thursday fired off a round of sanctions over surveillance in Xinjiang, where rights groups say China has been honing new technologies in artificial intelligence and DNA tracking to keep tabs on Uyghurs.

Companies hit by Treasury Department sanctions include SZ DJI Technology, by far the world’s largest producer of consumer drones.

“These eight entities actively support the surveillance and tracking of members of ethnic and religious minority groups in the PRC, predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

DJI has become a household name, capturing more than 70 per cent of the global market.

The United States had already restricted trade exports to the company, but the new Treasury Department sanctions will criminalize any US investment in it.

Other companies targeted included Xiamen Meiya Pico Information, which has developed a mobile application to track files on phones, and Cloudwalk Technology developed to recognize faces of Uyghurs and Tibetans and has since been deployed to Zimbabwe to help improve the tech, according to the Treasury Department.

Separately, the Commerce Department restricted sensitive exports to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences and 11 of its research institutes over biotechnology work including “purported brain-control weaponry,” a notice said.

The research institutes include centres focused on blood transfusions, bio-engineering and toxicology.

“The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the PRC is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” she added.

Based in Beijing, the Academy of Military Medical Sciences has been active in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.


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