Dec 3, 2020 - World

U.S. blocks cotton imports from China's Xinjiang region over forced labor

A farmer harvests cotton in a field on October 10, 2020 in Hami, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China.
A farmer harvests cotton in a field in October in Hami, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. Photo: Pulati Niyazi/VCG via Getty Images

The Trump administration announced Wednesday the U.S. will block imports of cotton products from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China because of forced labor concerns.

Why it matters: The plan to seize the cotton shipments from a powerful Chinese quasi-military group is the latest U.S. response to China's detention of over 1 million Uighur Muslims in internment camps.

  • Per Axios' Jonathan Swan and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, President Trump is stepping up hardline policies against China in his final weeks in office, with a goal of making it politically untenable for the Biden administration to change course.

The big picture: The CBP issued a "Withhold Release Order" on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps products after obtaining information "that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor, including convict labor," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.

  • It's the sixth enforced action by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in response to the China's detention camps.
  • The Trump administration has also sanctioned Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
  • Meanwhile, the House passed a bill in September to ban products made with forced labor in the detention camps. The Senate has yet to take up the legislation.

What they're saying: DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said during a news conference that "'Made in China is not just a country of origin it is a warning label."

"Those cheap cotton goods you may be buying for family and friends during the season of giving, if coming from China, may have been made by slave labor in some of the most egregious human rights violations existing today."

Of note: President-elect Biden has pledged to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy."

Go deeper