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US house votes to punish China over Uyghur treatment

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The US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation restricting imports from China’s Xinjiang region over its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority, as tensions continue to escalate between Washington and Beijing.

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Members of the House voted 428-1 to pass the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” which requires corporations to prove “with clear and convincing evidence” that any goods imported from the region were not made using forced labor.

“Right now, Beijing is orchestrating a brutal and accelerating campaign of repression against the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

“In Xinjiang, across China, millions are enduring outrageous human rights abuses: from mass surveillance and disciplinary policing; to mass torture including solitary confinement and forced sterilizations; intimidation of journalists and activists who is have dared to expose the truth.”

She added: “And, the government of China’s exploitation of forced labor reaches across the oceans to our shores and across the world.”

The US Senate has previously approved a similar measure and the two will now need reconciling.

The bill will then need to be signed into law by President Joe Biden and it was unclear whether it had White House support.

A young Uyghur activist holds up a poster that reads China where is my grandma?! during a demonstration on September 1, 2020 outside the Foreign Office in Berlin, where the Chinese Foreign Minister was expected to hold talks with his German counterpart. (Stock image)
A young Uyghur activist holds up a poster that reads China where is my grandma?! during a demonstration on September 1, 2020 outside the Foreign Office in Berlin, where the Chinese Foreign Minister was expected to hold talks with his German counterpart. (Stock image)

The vote comes shortly after the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over what it termed China's "genocide" of the Uyghur minority and other human rights abuses, a move that drew a harsh rebuke from Beijing.

Earlier this summer, the US government imposed similar restrictions on some Chinese imports, including solar panel materials, over Beijing's treatment of Uyghurs.

China called those restrictions "bandit-like."

In a separate 428-0 vote, the House also passed a resolution stating that the International Olympic Committee "failed to adhere to its own human rights commitments" amid doubts about the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has accused a top Communist Party leader of sexual assault.

Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have found evidence of what they say is mass detentions, forced labor, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilization. Washington has described it as genocide.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centers aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

In a new report published Wednesday, the Uyghur Human Rights Project -- a US-based advocacy group -- said it had identified more than 300 Uyghur and other Muslim intellectuals believed to be detained in Xinjiang since 2017.

China has denied the accusations concerning its treatment of the Uyghurs and there was no immediate comment on the House vote from Beijing.

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