The United States Department of Commerce announced on Monday it would be adding 11 new Chinese companies to its economic blacklist for their complicity in the mistreatment of Uighurs (also spelled Uyghur) and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.
Companies determined to be involved in the use of forced labor and genetic cataloging of Muslims will be prohibited from buying American technology and products without special licenses.
“Beijing actively promotes the reprehensible practice of forced labor and abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens,” said US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
“This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations,” he added.
This was the third group of Chinese companies and institutions that the US has blacklisted. Thirty-seven other entities were blacklisted in two previous rounds of sanctioning for their roles in Beijing’s repression of Uighur Muslims.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to comment when questioned by reporters.
After one of the previous rounds of sanctioning in May, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the US sanctions, saying that these had “overstretched the concept of national security, abused export control measures, violated the basic norms governing international relations, interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Some of the 11 sanctioned companies were found to be current or former suppliers to major international brands such as Apple, Ralph Lauren, Google, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Muji. While no official statements were released confirming the relationships, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found information on the Chinese companies’ websites mentioning their financial relationships with the global brands.
One of the blacklisted companies, Nanchang O-Film Tech, was visited by Apple chief executive Tim Cook in December 2017. According to a congressional letter from April, it also supplied goods to Amazon and Microsoft.
China has come under fire for their detainment of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in so-called “re-education camps”, something Beijing has repeatedly defended as necessary to counter terrorism and separatism in the Xinjiang region. It has also described the camps as facilities to provide job training to help reduce poverty.
Human rights groups and other experts estimate that up to one million Muslim minorities have been unwillingly detained in these internment camps, with thousands more being channeled into forced labor initiatives at factories around the region.
A video investigation by The New York Times tracked the supply chain of certain face masks and personal protective equipment found in the US back to Chinese companies that allegedly use Uighur labor.
Quotas on the amount of workers put into the labor program, as well as penalties imposed on those who do not cooperate, have led many to believe that participation is involuntary.
According to the ASPI report, there have also been advertisements promoting the benefits of Xinjiang workers aged 16-18 years old.
“The advantages of Xinjiang workers are: semi-military style management, can withstand hardship, no loss of personnel,” the advertisement read.
“Minimum order 100 workers,” appeared at the bottom of the ad.
The Trump administration’s new sanctions would only prevent American companies from selling components to these targeted Chinese, not from buying products from them. However, the growing spotlight on these issues could influence brands to suspend business relationships with opaque supply chains from Xinjiang.
President Donald Trump has taken an increasingly hard-line approach as tensions rise between the US and China over the Uighur issue and over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus and encroachment on Hong Kong autonomy.
Despite this, Trump has also been criticized for holding off sanctions over China’s treatment of the Uighur community and allegedly expressing support for their detainment. He has since said that this was done in order to secure a multibillion-dollar trade deal between the two world superpowers.
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