Senators have given final congressional approval to a Bill barring imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless businesses can prove they were produced without forced labour.
The measure is the latest in a series intensifying US penalties over China’s alleged abuses of ethnic and religious minorities in the western region, especially Xinjiang’s millions of predominantly Muslim Uighurs.
The Biden administration also announced new sanctions on Thursday targeting several Chinese biotech and surveillance companies, and government entities, for their actions in Xinjiang.
The Senate vote sends the Bill to President Joe Biden. Press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that Mr Biden supported the measure, after months of the White House declining to take a public stand on an earlier version of the legislation.
The United States says China is committing genocide in its treatment of the Uighurs. That includes widespread reports by rights groups and journalists of forced sterilisation and large detention camps where many Uighurs allegedly are compelled to work in factories.
China denies any abuses. It says the steps it has taken are necessary to combat terrorism and a separatist movement.
Xinjiang is a resource-rich mining region, important for agricultural production, particularly cotton and tomatoes, and home to a booming industrial sector.
As in the House earlier this week, the sweeping import ban passed the Senate with overwhelming approval from Democrats and Republicans.
“The United States is so reliant on China that we have turned a blind eye to the slave labour that makes our clothes, our solar panels, and much more,” Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who introduced the earlier version of the legislation with Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, said this week after House passage. “That changes today.”
Swift passage of a compromise version through both houses comes after what supporters said was offstage opposition from corporations with manufacturing links to China, although there was little to no overt opposition.
Some Uighur rights advocates and others said they had also feared private opposition from within the Biden administration as it sought cooperation from the Chinese on climate change and other issues.
Ms Psaki cited import controls, sanctions, diplomatic initiatives and other measures that the Biden administration had already taken targeting forced labour from Xinjiang.
“We agree with Congress that action can and must be taken to hold the People’s Republic of China accountable for genocide and human rights abuses and to address forced labour in Xinjiang,” Ms Psaki said.
The legislation requires government agencies to expand their monitoring of the use of forced labour by China’s ethnic minorities.
Crucially, it creates a presumption that goods coming from Xinjiang are made with forced labour. Businesses will have to prove that forced labour played no part in a product to bring it into the United States.
Meanwhile, new sanctions on Thursday from the Commerce Department targeted China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences and its 11 research institutes that focus on using biotechnology to support the Chinese military.
The move will bar American companies from selling components to the entities without a license.
China “is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups”, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.
“We cannot allow US commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to US national security.”