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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

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

What Biden's top administration picks signal about his China strategy

Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Early indicators suggest the Biden administration may continue to pursue a robust China strategy that reaches across multiple government departments and agencies.

Why it matters: Though the Trump administration's approach to China was often controversial, there is broad bipartisan agreement that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and values.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

Top DOJ official John Demers on the agency's China Initiative

Assistant Attorney General John Demers speaks at a press conference on Oct. 19, 2020. Photo credit: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images.

John Demers, the assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice's National Security Division who leads the department's China Initiative, spoke with Axios about his view on the initiative's progress since its launch in 2018 and what he hopes to see in the coming year as Biden assumes office.

The big picture: The China Initiative made headlines with dozens of major indictments but also sparked controversy over its targeting of scientists with links to the Chinese government.