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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Congress on Wednesday sent the Biden administration and Corporate America an unequivocal message about the Chinese government's repression of Uyghur Muslims: If this is genocide, as the U.S has declared, the response can't be business as usual.

Driving the news: The House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines with "clear and convincing evidence" the products were not made with forced labor.

Why it matters: Major corporations like Nike and Coca Cola have lobbied against the bill, which would have far-reaching consequences for U.S. supply chains deeply integrated with Chinese industry.

  • “Stop. Figure out another way to make money," Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), a founding member of the Uyghur Caucus, told Axios when asked for his message to American businesses.
  • Suozzi acknowledged the bill could cause supply-chain disruptions but stressed: "When everything's said and done, that's too bad. This is so egregious that we have to act."

The big picture: The Biden administration has been outspoken about China's campaign of mass detention, surveillance, forced labor and forced sterilization of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities — but has declined to throw its weight behind the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

  • Peter Irwin, an advocate with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told Axios the "piecemeal approach" the U.S. has taken with sanctions, targeted customs restrictions and business advisories can only be effective to a certain point.
  • This is where "the rubber meets the road" on rhetoric vs. action, Irwin says: The bill would impose "the first real costs" the Chinese government has ever faced for its atrocities in Xinjiang.

Between the lines: Like all things China, the debate also has been ensnared in the fight against climate change.

  • Xinjiang accounts for nearly 50% of the world's polysilicon, a raw material used to manufacture solar panels.
  • The administration has vehemently denied allegations from Republicans that officials like climate envoy John Kerry have lobbied against the bill to ensure the U.S. can cooperate with China on climate change.

What they're saying: A senior State Department official told Axios: "To be clear, the Department of State is not opposing this [bill]."

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month the administration has offered "technical assistance on the legislation."

What to watch: The Senate unanimously passed its own version of the bill last month, but there are several differences in the legislation that must be reconciled by the two chambers.

  • The White House has not said whether President Biden will sign the bill if and when it reaches his desk.

Go deeper

Nov 16, 2021 - World

Olympics sponsors caught between U.S. and China

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies that do business in China — especially Olympics sponsors — are concerned Beijing will use the 2022 Winter Games as a loyalty test.

Why it matters: China's leaders have become adept at silencing criticism from U.S. companies that might otherwise condemn the country's human rights record — and the Chinese government has been able to host prestigious global events like the Olympics while committing rights violations with impunity.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

HRW criticizes Biden over "mixed signals" on human rights

Photo: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Human Rights Watch criticized President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations for sending "mixed signals" on human rights in its annual World Report published on Thursday, saying they "are not meeting the challenges before them."

Why it matters: Though Biden pledged to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote that weapon sales to repressive governments and public reticence on certain human rights violations place those promises in question.

House passes voting rights bill

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed voting rights legislation, approving a measure that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Driving the news: The package will be sent to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle because of Republican opposition. Democrats are considering changing the Senate's filibuster rules to pass the bill.