New rules imposed by Congress require Xinjiang exporters to US to prove products were not made by forced labour.
Amid worsening relations between Beijing and Washington, President Joe Biden signed a new law on Thursday banning products made in China’s Xinjiang province because of China’s oppression of its largely Muslim Uighur minority population.
Pushed by members of Congress, the law passed the House of Representatives and the Senate by unanimous votes earlier this month. It imposed a near-blanket ban on the import to the United States of goods from Xinjiang by requiring suppliers to first prove their products were not made with forced labour. Xinjiang is a large supplier of cotton and solar panels.
United Nations experts and rights groups have estimated that more than one million people, mainly Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been imprisoned in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang. The US and many rights groups have called it genocide.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang.
“It is a horrifying human rights situation, fully sanctioned – as we now know – by the Communist Party of China,” Senator Marco Rubio, the lead Republican sponsor of the bill, said last week.
The new law also provided for sanctions on any individuals the US determines are responsible for forced labour in the Xinjiang region. It will complicate supply chains for some US companies that source materials from China.
Following a backlash in China, US chipmaker Intel Corp on Thursday apologised to Chinese customers and partners in a public statement on WeChat for having told suppliers in an earlier letter not to source products or labour from Xinjiang.
An independent UK-based tribunal ruled last week the Chinese government had committed genocide, crimes against humanity and torture of Uighurs and other minorities.
The US has described China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “genocide”, citing the situation in Xinjiang in a decision earlier this month to launch a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.
On Tuesday, China announced sanctions on four members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in retaliation for penalties imposed on Chinese officials for the alleged abuses in Xinjiang.
The Biden administration imposed trade sanctions last week on several Chinese companies and institutions, a number of Chinese technology companies, accusing the government in Beijing of advancing high-tech surveillance on the Uighurs.
The move by the US Department of Commerce added China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes to a US list of companies and institutions subject to export controls.
Earlier, the US placed Chinese artificial intelligence start-up SenseTime Group on a US investment blacklist forcing the company to postpone a planned $767m Hong Kong initial public offering.
Human rights groups have recounted unprecedented surveillance of the Uighurs, including tracing with DNA and artificial intelligence operations to recognise and monitor faces.
Representatives James McGovern, a leading Democrat, and Chris Smith, a Republican and longtime critic of China’s human rights record, had championed the bill in the House. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, had joined with Rubio, to press the bill in the Senate.