Xinjiang import ban worsens China-US relations  

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China has condemned the United States’ decision to enforce an import ban on products made in Xinjiang and vowed to act forcefully to uphold the lawful rights and interests of its companies and nationals.

Political tensions between China and the US have increased after US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Tuesday began enforcing the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which was signed into law by US President Joe Biden last December.

The US said it was rallying its allies jointly to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labor and speak out against alleged atrocities in Xinjiang.

China’s Foreign Ministry said the UFLPA was solid evidence of arbitrary US behavior undermining international economic and trade rules and global industrial and supply chains.

After a trade war between the US and China broke out in 2018, the Donald Trump administration imposed several rounds of additional tariffs on Chinese goods, including consumer products such as textiles and apparel.

Because of the extra tariffs, the market share of China’s apparel products in the US decreased to 27.18% last year from 36% in 2018, according to an article published last month by Mysteel.com, a Chinese commodity website.

In the first quarter of this year, the market share of Vietnam’s apparel products in the US rose to 10% from 8% in 2017, the article said. India’s market share increased to 13% from 11% while Bangladesh’s grew to 11% from 7% for the same period.

In January last year, outgoing US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the Communist Party of China had committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang.

Two months later, Western countries including the US, the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as the European Union, imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Retail giants including Nike, H&M and Zara announced that they would not use Xinjiang cotton any more, but they were then warned by Chinese netizens about possible boycotts of their products in China.

On December 23, 2021, Biden signed into law legislation aimed at ensuring that goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang would not enter the US market.

However, Uniqlo, a Japanese casualwear chain, said it would not take sides in the simmering tensions between the US and China.

On January 6, Beijing criticized the US for using Xinjiang-related issues as an excuse to force multinational companies to pick a side between the two countries.

On Tuesday, the US started banning the import of Xinjiang products unless importers can prove that the goods and their components are not made with forced labor.

“Addressing forced labor and other human-rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China and around the world is a priority for President Biden and this administration,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are rallying our allies and partners to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labor, to speak out against atrocities in Xinjiang, and to join us in calling on the government of the PRC to immediately end atrocities and human-rights abuses, including forced labor,” he added.

Blinken also said in a tweet that he applauded the companies that had taken a stand against the PRC’s alleged atrocities and rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry, said: “The US Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act is built on a lie and designed to impose sanctions on relevant entities and individuals in Xinjiang.

“This move is the furtherance of that lie and an escalation of US suppression on China under the pretext of human rights.”

Wang added: “The act is a clear indication that the US is seeking to engender forced unemployment in Xinjiang through legal form of actions, and to make the world decouple with China.”

Wang said China strongly condemns and firmly opposes the act, which fully exposed the United States’ hegemonic nature of violating human rights and breaking rules in the name of preserving them.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that the US move would seriously damage the interests of Chinese and US consumers and enterprises and do no good for the stabilization of global industrial and supply chains, easing global inflation, or the promotion of global economic recovery.

The ministry said the US import ban on Xinjiang products would deprive people in the region of their rights to work and develop and result in forced unemployment and even a return to poverty.

It said the real intention of the US was to discredit China’s image, interfere in its internal affairs, curb its development, and undermine Xinjiang’s prosperity and stability.

While some multinational companies are still reluctant to take sides over Xinjiang issues, Shein, a Chinese provider of affordably priced apparel, has in recent years grown to become the largest fast fashion retailer in the US, Fortune magazine said in an article on Monday.

It pointed out that the UFLPA could have a blind spot as Shein was sending goods directly to US customers.

Media reports said Shein had grown by taking advantage of a Trump-era US tax loophole, which allows sellers to send US$800 worth of goods every day duty and tax free from China to the US.

In January, media reports said Shein, which has a valuation of at least $76.5 billion, planned to list on the New York Stock Exchange this year. But it then postponed the plan because of the rising volatility in the US stock markets.

Read: Biden finally rethinking Trump’s China trade war

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3

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