Despite sharp divisions on most major issues, congressional Democrats and Republicans agree on at least one way to deal with China.
President Joe Biden signed into law just before Christmas a bipartisan bill banning goods from China’s Xinjiang region unless companies can prove they aren’t made with forced labor. The House and Senate unanimously passed the measure earlier this month, showing the parties are largely aligned on China policy.
“The United States will not standby as the Chinese Communist Party commits genocide against the Uyghurs. Our bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, now law, will help keep China accountable by ensuring no goods made with Uyghur slave labor are sold in American markets,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in a tweet.
Romney has taken a hard stance on China, as has all of Utah’s delegation in Washington. He called for an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics set to start in February, largely to protest what he calls genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities. Biden earlier this month announced the U.S. would not send government representatives to the 2022 Winter Games.
The new law is part of the U.S. pushback against China’s treatment of the Uyghur population, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group based primarily in Xinjiang province allegedly subjected to mass persecution by the Chinese Communist Party. It bans imports from the Xinjiang and imposes sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for forced labor in the region.
The bill was a compromise between House and Senate versions.
Key to the measure is a “rebuttable presumption” that assumes all goods from Xinjiang, where Beijing has established detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, are made with forced labor, according to Reuters. It bans imports unless it can be proven otherwise.
Some goods such as cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon used in solar panel manufacturing are designated “high priority” for enforcement action.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang, a major cotton producer that also supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels.
Its Washington embassy said the act “ignores the truth and maliciously slanders the human rights situation in Xinjiang,” according to Reuters.
“This is a severe violation of international law and norms of international relations, and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs. China strongly condemns and firmly rejects it,” embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said in an emailed statement.
He said China “would respond further in light of the development of the situation,” but did not elaborate.
Biden’s signing of the bill underscores the “United States’ commitment to combatting forced labor, including in the context of the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“The State Department is committed to working with Congress and our interagency partners to continue addressing forced labor in Xinjiang and to strengthen international action against this egregious violation of human rights,” he said in a statement.
Stewart is working on bipartisan legislation to help protect American technology from falling into China’s hands. He and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., introduced a bill this month to assess the relationship between China and the United Arab Emirates in order to safeguard U.S. technology and national security.
The measure would require the director of national intelligence to submit a report to the House and Senate intelligence committees with details on China-UAE cooperation in defense, security, technology, and other matters regarding U.S. national security interests.
“America faces ever-evolving threats in an ever-evolving international landscape, and none are more serious than those posed by China,” Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “This legislation will provide us with the information necessary to most effectively defend American technology from our greatest foreign adversary.”
The U.S. needs to monitor the relationship between China and the UAE, partly because China secretly tried to use its commercial port in the UAE to establish a military foothold in the Middle East, according to the congressmen. China stopped construction of the military base after the U.S. intervened and notified the UAE, which said it was unaware of China’s military objectives.
The UAE also continues to have strong economic ties with China.