Dec 15, 2021 - Podcasts

A bipartisan push to protect Uyghurs in China

There’s been a breakthrough in the push to punish the Chinese government for its genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. A new piece of bipartisan legislation is expected to end up on President Biden’s desk.

  • Plus, pro sports braces for Omicron.
  • And, the impact of Black Lives Matter over the last 18 months.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Jeff Tracy and Russ Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Jayk Cherry, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

We’ve made it to Wednesday, it’s December 15th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: Pro sports braces for Omicron. Plus, the impact of Black Lives Matter over the last 18 months.

But first, a bipartisan push to protect Uyghurs in today’s One Big Thing.

There’s been a breakthrough in the push to punish the Chinese government for genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Zach Basu covers national security for Axios and is here to tell us about the new piece of bipartisan legislation that’s expected to end up on President Biden’s desk. Hey, Zach.

ZACH BASU: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Zach, what's in this legislation?

ZACH: So this bill would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang, unless the US government can prove with clear and convincing evidence that the products were not made with forced labor. The Chinese government has been engaged in this campaign of forced assimilation against Uyghur Muslims, and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Human rights organizations have called it the largest mass internment of religious and ethic minorities since World War II and US government has described it as genocide. A lot of the goods that come from Xinjiang are the product of forced labor from Uyghurs who are detained in these mass internment camps. The administration has, you know, sanctioned various Chinese officials and entities who are complicit in the genocide. But this bill, if and when it becomes law, will be by far the most consequential action that US government has taken to punish China for what's going on in Xinjiang.

NIALA: So big corporations like Nike, and Coca-Cola pushed back against this bill. Why is that?

ZACH: A lot of US companies have supply chains that are very much integrated with Chinese industry, including in Xinjiang. Nike and Coca-Cola have lobbied against the bill because of the massive supply chain disruptions that it could set off. Xinjiang is also a major source of raw materials for solar panels. So in some ways, this bill is running counter to Biden's plans for fighting climate change. But at the end of the day, human rights activists and members of Congress are effectively telling the administration and large companies that this cannot be business as usual. If this really is a genocide than the US has to be doing everything in its power to ensure that China is being held accountable and that American companies aren't complicit in crimes against humanity.

NIALA: Do you think this will have any real impact on the ground in China?

ZACH: Activists that I've spoken to see this, both as a symbolic measure, it could catalyze movements in other countries to enact similar bills that would impose real costs on the Chinese government really for the first time. And it could also, you know, spur more American companies moving out of Xinjiang and really serve as a wake up call, that the private sector needs to be taking steps to avoid being complicit in this genocide.

NIALA: Axios’ Zach Bosu. Thanks, Zach.

ZACH: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. It’s been a while since we talked about how Covid is affecting the sports world, but now the Omicron variant and the latest wave of cases are rocking professional sports in a huge way. Axios sports reporter Jeff Tracy is with me -- Jeff, at this point has Omicron affected basically every professional sports league playing right now?

JEFF TRACY: It does kind of feel like that. Yeah. Whether you're talking domestically or abroad, five or six English premier league teams, uh, had outbreaks that have led to some postponements. In the NFL on Monday, a record 37 players were added to Covid protocols, that's the most that they've added in a single day since the pandemic began. The NBA on Monday had to force its first postponements of the season when the Chicago Bulls had 10 different players in protocols. And in the past 36 hours, that's from Monday through Tuesday afternoon, the NHL has added 23 players to protocols and had two more teams have their games postponed. So it's really starting to pick up steam across the world.

NIALA: I mean, we're not talking about playing in bubbles anymore. Players are mostly vaccinated. What happens now when there are outbreaks?

JEFF: Certain leagues are starting to change their protocols a little bit. In the NBA, fully vaccinated will mean having a booster as opposed to just two doses. In the NFL, for tier one and tier two employees, which is basically the players and very close team staff, uh, by the end of this year, they are going to be required to have boosters, you know, not all of these have been Omicron positives. I'm not sure any of them have confirmed been that. But as we've seen, Omicron is so transmissible and the booster is more effective against Omicron than simply, you know, the six or so month old, double vaccine. So, uh, it's really starting to become an issue.

NIALA: Do we know how this may impact fans gathering for these events?

JEFF: Anything specific would be conjecture at this point at least domestically. In Germany, the Bundesliga, which is their top soccer league, they have already started limiting capacity at their games. Not completely banning fans like we saw last year, but they have limited fans. In Canada, again, nothing's happened yet, but, uh, one infectious disease doctor has estimated that there’s going to be 10,000 daily Omicron cases by the end of this year. And he predicts that the Ontario government is going to probably start looking at banning fans in, uh, NHL and NBA games, starting in the new year.

NIALA: Jeff Tracy is one of the writers at our Axios sports newsletter. Thanks, Jeff.

JEFF: Thanks so much, Niala.

NIALA: It’s been a year and a half since Black Lives Matters protests first shook the United States. But what real, tangible changes did we see in 2021 from this reckoning around systemic racism? All this week we’ve been reflecting on 2021, and today I wanted to talk to Axios Race and Justice Reporter Russell Contreras for his take on the impact of Black Lives Matter since George Floyd was murdered back in May of 2020. Hi, Russ.

RUSS: Great to be with you.

NIALA: Russ, we tend to focus on what hasn't changed. There was no sweeping change when it comes to voter rights, no federal police reform bill, calls to defund police departments around the country have fizzled. Is that a fair way to look at what's happening?

RUSS: It is a fair way, but there's another story that's also going on here. Yes, we don't have a federal police reform bill, but some states passed their own reforms. We look at Illinois, they passed a bill that banned chokeholds. If you look at New Mexico, there was a bill passed that required police to wear cameras. So overall, we didn't see the sweeping reforms that demonstrators were demanding, but we did see some substantial reforms in the states and we saw some things change in our culture. Before the George Floyd murder, the Washington football team was resisting changing its name. After the protest hit the streets, the Washington football team changed its name, but so did the Cleveland baseball team.

NIALA: And that’s about indigenous names.

RUSS: Exactly. So we saw some other groups of color benefit from the Black Lives Matter movement, the statues honoring Confederate soldiers, those were toppled, but so were statues that were honoring people who murdered indigenous people. So it was a multi-racial, multi-ethnic effort that we started seeing substantial change in how we discuss systemic racism.

NIALA: I think it's also important to talk about the backlash against this. What has that looked like?

RUSS: Well, there's definitely been a backlash. After the demonstration, we started seeing teachers, very boldly, wanting to talk about systemic racism and the legacy of slavery. Since then, we've seen a conservative, organized backlash against what they call critical race theory. And what that backlash

really is, is about the way we discuss diversity, the way we discuss race. Diversity was non-controversial. Now it is inundating these school boards. Teachers are facing all kinds of backlash, that is direct response to the Gorge Floyd protest.

NIALA: What are you watching for next? What do you think will be happening in the next year and a half?

RUSS: I'm looking at American history. If we look at the Civil War right after we eradicated slavery, there was a backlash, Jim Crow came into place. Right after the Civil Rights movement, there was over-policing in urban areas. So really the question is what is going to be the backlash over the demands to end systemic racism? The difference this time is that now there's going to be a plurality of people of color in the United States. Their political power is growing. Where do we go from there? That's the fascinating thing I'll be looking out for.

NIALA: Axios Race and Justice Reporter Russell Contreras. Thank you for being with us all year on this issue, Russ.

RUSS: Great to be with you.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! Remember we ALWAYS love your feedback -- you can text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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