Americans forced into paying the cost of Biden's economic war on Russia are about to be conscripted into service on a second front, as Washington confronts China over its treatment of its Uyghur ethnic minority.
Effective June 21, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act will impose a guilty-til-proven-innocent regime that bars all imports from China's Xinjiang province unless businesses prove their products are not made with forced labor.
A customs official said a "very high" level of evidence will be required. Though the law was passed almost six months ago, the Biden administration is providing U.S. businesses with little or no guidance on how it will be enforced.
One thing is certain: Americans are in for even higher prices and more product shortages imposed on them by a White House that's all too comfortable compelling "shared sacrifice" in pursuit of Biden's foreign policy agenda.
Xinjiang supplies about 20% of the world's cotton, and a wide range of other products are either made there or made with materials produced there. The new law—passed in December—threatens to disrupt markets for everything from solar panels to athletic shoes, auto parts and TV remote controls.
Xinjiang could be the tip of the iceberg. As Bloomberg reports:
Since workers and goods from Xinjiang flow across the country, it’s nearly impossible to determine what products are made in the rest of China using what the US deems as forced labor—raising the prospect that the American import ban could eventually be extended to other regions.
Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China would retaliate, but provided no details. The ban will "severely disrupt normal cooperation between China and the US, and global industrial and production chains,” said Lijian.
Customs and Border Protection said the new law "will likely exacerbate current supply-chain disruptions,” with imports from all countries "subject to delays in processing time."
This latest example of the U.S. government using a trade embargo as a political weapon springs from claims that China is forcing Uyghurs into labor. Uyghurs (pronounced "wee-guhrs") are a predominantly Sunni Muslim ethnic minority group that speaks Turkic, a language similar to Turkish. They comprise a 45% plurality of Xinjian's population.
In 2014, Uyghur violence against Han Chinese led President Xi Jinping to create detention centers where Uyghurs were compelled to learn Communist ideology. They also received work and language training.
Rising global scrutiny of those detention facilities led China to announce their closure in 2019. However, China's efforts to incorporate the Uyghurs into industry and Chinese society continues, particularly by way of a controversial "rural labor transfer program" that relocates Uyghurs so they can work in factories.
The program frequently moves Uyghurs not only from their villages but even from their sprawling home province—shipping them to factories all across the country.
China says the rural labor transfer program is an essential means of lifting Uyghurs and others out of poverty. Leaked documents indicate Chinese officials also feel they're essential in preventing idle Uyghurs from "provok[ing] trouble" and embracing religious extremism.
Uyghurs are brought into the program by canvassers who call on families in Xinjiang villages. Researchers portray the invitation to leave one's home for training and factory work as an offer that can't be refused. Anthropologist Rune Steenberg tells Bloomberg:
“If they don’t adapt to the party line and do everything the party asks them, then they’re in immediate danger of becoming branded as uncooperative. And that can mean incarceration for you and your family.”
When shipping out, groups of Uyghurs are accompanied by a local Communist party member and a police officer. Another anthropologist, Darren Byler, tells Bloomberg that Uyghurs "are not permitted to practice Islam...they're required to study Chinese and political thought at night...they're really living in unfree conditions."
Consistent with that bleak portrayal, advertising materials promoting the program to Chinese businesses say one advantage of Xinjiang workers is their "semi-military-style management."
A Chinese foreign ministry official called allegations of forced labor and genocide "the lies of the century."
At 620,000 square miles, Xinjiang—officially, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region—is China's largest province. Mostly desert, it borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.