The Trump administration has stepped up its trade war with China by banning the import of any cotton or cotton products from a major producer, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, accused of using forced labor of Uyghur Muslims.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the ban was based on “disinformation” and violates international trade rules, but several key House Democrats said the ban didn't go far enough.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which announced the ban on Wednesday, said it applies to all cotton and cotton products produced by XPCC and its affiliates, including any “made in whole or in part with or derived from that cotton, such as apparel, garments, and textiles.”
“The human rights abuses taking place at the hands of the Chinese Communist government will not be tolerated by President Trump and the American people,” said Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary for the Homeland Security Department.
“DHS is taking the lead to enforce our laws to make sure human rights abusers, including U.S. businesses, are not allowed to manipulate our system in order to profit from slave labor. ‘Made in China’ is not just a country of origin it is a warning label.”
XPCC is estimated to produce one-third of China’s cotton. China is the world's largest producer of cotton ahead of the United States.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Thursday said the U.S. action "destroys the global industrial chains and supply chains, and damages the interests of enterprises and consumers in various countries, including the United States.
“This is a typical act of hurting others' interests while diminishing one's own interests. We urge some U.S. politicians to respect basic facts and stop interfering in China's internal affairs under the pretext of Xinjiang.”
But leading Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade policy, issued a joint statement questioning CBP's ability to enforce the ban and calling on the Senate to pass a House bill intended to punish China.
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While the ban "is a step in the right direction regarding the deplorable, inhumane treatment of Uyghurs and other minority Muslim populations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it is clearly not enough," according to the statement by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.
The CBP order "will only affect one sector, even though it is well documented that forced labor is rampant across Xinjiang and in a wide range of sectors. Today’s action underscores the need for the Senate to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act immediately. This legislation would take a much more aggressive and targeted approach to combatting forced labor in China, and it passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this year," the Democrats said.
The Treasury Department in July announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act against top officials in Xinjiang over treatment of the Uyghurs. The department cited reports of mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse.
The issue will soon be in the hands of the incoming Biden administration, which will also have to decide what to do with the 25% tariffs that Trump imposed on Chinese goods.
During an interview with a New York Times columnist this week, Biden said won't immediately remove the tariffs but would instead work with U.S. allies to pressure China to stop intellectual property abuses.
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