The US has fired another shot across the bow of the Chinese Communist Party as the relationship between the two countries continues on a downward spiral.
On Monday (local time) the White House slapped a ban on imports from a region of China, citing a history of slave labour in the area.
For years, Western governments including the US and Australia have avoided publicly condemning China over its human rights abuses and its detainment of muslim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province of northwest China.
But the country’s increasing aggression – known as its Wolf Warrior diplomacy – has meant other nations have been more eager to criticise China.
In the latest diplomatic attack, four companies and a manufacturing facility in northwestern China were blocked by the Trump administration from shipping their products to the US because of their suspected reliance on forced labour from people detained as part of a massive campaign against ethnic minorities in the region.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued orders freezing imports from companies that produce cotton, clothing and computer parts in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China, where authorities have detained more than one million people in detention camps as part of the crackdown.
CBP also halted imports of hair products made at a manufacturing facility where authorities believe Uighurs and other ethnic minorities are forced to work.
Taking to social media, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed China for its “immoral use of forced labour”.
“We won't tolerate products exported to the US made on the backs of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups across China.”
We strongly condemn the CCP's human rights abuses through its immoral use of forced labor, which is at odds with American values. We won't tolerate products exported to the U.S. made on the backs of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups across China. pic.twitter.com/NOxpEVEhcR— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2020
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, dismissed the notion that the facility is a “vocational” centre as has been portrayed by Chinese authorities.
“It is a concentration camp, a place where religious and ethnic minorities are subject to abuse and forced to work in heinous conditions with no recourse and no freedom,” Mr Cuccinelli told the Associated Press.
“This is modern day slavery.”
The treatment of people in Xinjiang has become a source of friction between the US and China amid broader tensions over trade and the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Trump administration has over the past year issued eight of what are known as “withhold release orders,” on goods from China to block goods tainted by forced labour, and is considering further steps amid ongoing disputes over trade and other issues between the two countries.
Among the measures under consideration is an order banning cotton and tomatoes from the entire Xinjiang region, a move that could have significant economic effects. Mr Cuccinelli said the administration was still studying the proposal.
China has denied widespread and consistent reports of abuse and mistreatment of the Uyghurs and other minorities, defending the campaign as an effort to crack down on extremism. It claims the detention camps are for vocational and Chinese language training.
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