Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China January 21, 2021.
Tingshue Wang | Reuters
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday that aims to crack down on human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.
The legislation bans imports from Xinjiang and imposes sanctions on individuals responsible for forced labor in the region. The measure marks Washington’s latest effort to curb the harsh treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China.
Underscoring the broad support for addressing human rights abuses in the region, the Senate passed the bill unanimously this month following an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Beijing has denied it has mistreated religious and ethnic minorities in the region.
The Biden administration has previously described the abuse of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region as “widespread, state-sponsored forced labor” and “mass detention.”
The Biden administration has previously warned businesses with supply chain and investment ties to Xinjiang that they could face legal consequences. It cited growing evidence of genocide and other human rights abuses in the country’s northwest region.
In July, the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Labor, along with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, issued a warning to companies linked even “indirectly” to the Chinese government in Xinjiang.
The most-pointed line from the Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory states that “businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law.”
Earlier this month, U.S. chipmaker Intel issued a letter to its suppliers saying that it had been required to “ensure that its supply chain does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.”
The letter triggered a backlash in China, where the chipmaker employs approximately 10,000 people.
On Thursday, Intel apologized in a new statement written in Chinese. The chipmaker said the decision to avoid supplies from Xinjiang was necessary to comply with U.S. law and not a statement of its human rights position.
“We apologize for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public. Intel is committed to becoming a trusted technology partner and accelerating joint development with China,” the company wrote.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not comment directly on Intel’s apology but said that “American companies should never feel the need to apologize for standing up for fundamental human rights or opposing repression.”
“We call on all industries to ensure that they are not sourcing products that involve forced labor including forced labor from Xinjiang.”
Last week, the Commerce Department imposed trade restrictions on 30 Chinese research institutes. The Treasury Department announced sanctions on eight Chinese tech entities over human rights violations.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., dismissed U.S. claims as “totally groundless.”
“The United States has been making excuses to suppress and contain certain foreign companies and research institutions by applying measures such as export control,” embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said in a statement provided to CNBC.
Earlier this month, the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
Governments, civil society groups and United Nations officials have previously expressed concern over the Chinese government’s harsh measures of repressing those that criticize the Chinese Communist Party.
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