The House passed a bill Wednesday to crack down on imports from China’s Xinjiang region following a Senate dustup last week that exposed Biden administration pressure on lawmakers to rein in the bill’s language.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which passed 428-1, authorizes sanctions against companies that facilitate the forced labor of Muslim minority groups, including Uyghurs, in Xinjiang and prohibits imports from the region unless Customs and Border Protection determines that no forced labor was used in production.
The chamber also passed a separate resolution Wednesday condemning “the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity being committed against Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups by the People’s Republic of China.”
That measure cleared the chamber 427-1.
“The United States Congress, on a bipartisan and bicameral basis, stands united in demanding that the People’s Republic of China be held accountable and immediately cease its human rights abuses: from its genocide against the Uyghurs, to its long campaign of repression against the Tibetan people and to its assault on basic freedoms in Hong Kong and on the mainland,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
China continues to deny allegations that Uyghurs are used for forced labor.
In a briefing last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the bill “pure political manipulation” and accused the U.S. of attempting to “undermine Xinjiang’s stability and development under the pretext of human rights.”
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, blocked progress on the annual defense policy bill over his objection to Democrats’ last-minute removal of his amendment which would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region.
The Senate had previously passed a version of the bill banning imports from Xinjiang with bipartisan support, and inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would have forced the House to take up the measure.
Democrats say the amendment would have caused a “blue slip issue,” a procedural matter concerning stipulations that legislation that raises revenue to be originated in the House.
But a senior member of Mr. Rubio’s staff said the claims are misleading, and that Democrats assured Mr. Rubio that the amendment was included until just before the vote.
The Washington Post later reported that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pressed Democratic lawmakers to take “a more targeted and deliberative approach” with the bill and determine which specific items would be banned.
A State Department spokesperson told The Post that the administration did not oppose the amendment but confirmed that Ms. Sherman objected to certain language in the bill.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also confirmed that the administration was engaged in “negotiations and discussions between members of Congress,” but she said that the administration does not oppose holding China accountable.
Ahead of the House vote Wednesday, Mr. Rubio applauded his House colleagues for taking up the bill but expressed concern over outside pressure influencing votes on measures to hold China accountable.
“I am glad the House is finally taking action to crack down on slave labor in China,” Mr. Rubio said.
“However, the Biden Administration and some big corporations are still working to make sure this bill never becomes law. And they are already working to complicate things here in the Senate,” he said. “Anyone who helps them stop our efforts while hiding behind procedures and technicalities should be called out for that.”
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