The US on Thursday unleashed a volley of actions to censure China’s treatment of Uighurs, with lawmakers voting to curb trade and new sanctions slapped on the world’s top consumer drone maker.
The US Senate unanimously voted to make the US the first country to ban virtually all imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns of the prevalence of forced labor.
“We know it’s happening at an alarming, horrific rate with the genocide that we now witness being carried out,” said US Senator Marco Rubio, a driver behind the act, which already passed the House of Representatives and which the White House says US President Joe 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 widely respected former ambassador to Greece and NATO, and a professor at Harvard, has called the treatment of Uighurs “genocide,” and described China as an “aggressor” in its relationship with Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
“Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack,” Burns said, while rejecting a suggestion that the US ditch its longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which does not say whether it would intervene in an invasion of Taiwan.
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.
Xinjiang is a major source of cotton, with an estimated 20 percent of the garments imported each year into the US including some material from the region.
Rights experts, witnesses and the US government say that more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims are incarcerated in camps.
The Biden administration also fired off a round of sanctions over surveillance in Xinjiang, where rights groups say China has been honing new technologies to keep tabs on Uighurs.
Companies hit by US Department of the Treasury sanctions include SZ DJI Technology, by far the world’s largest producer of consumer drones of the type used in filmmaking and aerial photography, with more than 70 percent of the global market.
The US had already restricted trade exports to the company, but the new sanctions would criminalize any US investment in it.
The US Department of Commerce also restricted sensitive exports to the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences and 11 of its research institutes over biotechnology work, including “purported brain-control weaponry,” a notice said.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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