China on Friday dismissed US claims of forced labour involving ethnic Uighurs as “hypocrisy” after Washington warned companies to avoid supply chains linked to human rights abuses in western Xinjiang region.
The US State Department, along with three other US government bodies, on Wednesday issued a business advisory warning companies to steer clear of entities linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang such as forced labour and mass surveillance.
US warns China of using Uighur forced labour and inhumane practices
The advisory came one day before US customs officials revealed that they had seized 13 tons of human hair products exported from Xinjiang, which are believed to have been taken from Uighurs detained in the region.
Read more: USA wants to destabilise China internally
“The so-called forced labour issue is completely fabricated by certain people and organisations in the US and the West,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing.
“Some American individuals on one hand claim to care about Xinjiang ethnic minorities, but on the other hand also take measures to suppress Xinjiang companies. This fully shows their ugly hypocrisy, of wanting to curb Xinjiang’s development and provoking (tension) in Chinese ethnic relations.”
US seizes Chinese shipment: accuses China of Uighur forced labour
The US has seized a shipment of human hair products from China, that it says was made by forced labour from children or prisoners. The products came from Xinjiang in the far west of China – where it’s thought a million Muslims have been detained in “re-education” camps.
“Production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation,” said US customs official Brenda Smith. China said the “forced labour” accusation was false and malicious.
The US did not say whether the hair itself came from children or prisoners – merely that the products were made by them. The products were detained by the US Customs and Border Protection at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The goods came from a company in Xinjiang, which, the agency said, indicated “potential human right abuses of forced child labour and imprisonment”. The products were part of 13-ton shipment of hair products worth more than $800,000 dollars.
Last month, the agency issued a “detention order” for all products from the Lop County Meixin Hair Product Company in Xinjiang. A long-standing US law bans the importation of any products made by “convict labour” overseas.
“The detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message…that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in US supply chains,” said Ms Smith. The US embassy in China told Reuters: “The lawful labour rights and interests of the Chinese citizens of all ethnic groups, including those in Xinjiang, are protected by law.”
And last month, President Trump signed the “Uyghur Human Rights Act” into law, which allows for sanctions and increases US agencies’ reporting on Xinjiang. But Mr Trump recently said he held off on stronger sanctions because “we were in the middle of a major trade deal” with China.
“When you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on… we’ve done a lot,” Mr Trump told Axios.
China defends against US allegations: denies any use of Uighur forced labour
Rights groups say at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.
A lot of big companies are going to face some pressure over the allegations in this report regarding the use of Uighur forced labour in #China including Apple, BMW, Gap Nike, Samsung… https://t.co/RkhgDdArcV
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) March 1, 2020
Uighur activists say China is conducting a massive brainwashing campaign aimed at eradicating their distinct culture and Islamic identity. China describes the camps as vocational training sites intended to offer an alternative to Islamic extremism.
According to a March report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, at least 83 global brands, including Nike and Apple, are benefiting from Uighur forced labour in the manufacture of their products.
The report also estimated that between 2017 and 2019, over 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to factories across China with limited freedom of movement. Zhao claimed that ethnic minorities in Xinjiang had the freedom to choose their jobs, and that their labour rights were guaranteed by the Xinjiang government. Since 2018, 151,000 surplus labourers have been moved out of poverty-stricken families in southern Xinjiang to work in factories, he added.
Last December, regional authorities in Xinjiang said that all detainees had “graduated” from the facilities, but this statistic is difficult to verify due to the strict information lockdown in the area.
What is really going on with Uighurs?
China claims that the Uighurs in the Xinjiang autonomous region in the North Western region of China are being reeducated in Chinese principles – a move which it says is designed to ensure that citizens from this region come at par with those who reside in other regions of China. China has rubbished all talk of internment camps, saying that participation is voluntary, but maintains that Uighurs still come to these seminars and encourage such endeavours by the centre.
The Xinjiang autonomous region of China has been a site of rebellion; here, the Muslim majority citizens are looking to secede from China and establish their own country: East Turkestan.
Uighurs have become a contentious issue between the West and China, with the former firmly maintaining that the latter is leading a state sanctioned genocide of the ethnic group. To date, no compelling evidence has been presented to further the Western position. China meanwhile, remains resolute.
GVS News Desk with additional input by AFP.
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