Tag Archives: Xinjiang

US Xinjiang Imports Ban Takes Effect, Further Darkening Trade Relations

US LEGISLATION BANNING the import of products made in Xinjiang unless the importer can prove the product was not created with forced labour went into effect today.

The Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act was passed last December and presumes that goods from Xinjiang are made with forced labour. That flips on its head the burden of proof required under existing US bans on importing products made with forced labour.

The act has been roundly condemned by Beijing.

Given the near impossibility of US importers verifying their Xinjiang supply chains on the ground as independent auditors are being denied access, the law will become as good as a blanket ban. How it is implemented, particularly the rigour with which US authorities pursue the diffusion of Xinjiang products throughout supply chains in the rest of China and the region, will determine how dampening the blanket is on trade.

Xinjiang produces more than 90% of China’s cotton, which is used by the textile and apparel industries across the country. Thus the impact of the law will be widespread in those sectors.

According to the South China Morning Post, stocks of unsold cotton are piling up at Xinjiang mills as US importers get their supply chains into compliance. With the next harvest less than three months away, half the cotton harvested last autumn has yet to be sold.

Xinjiang is also a grower of tomatoes for export and a producer of solar-grade polysilicon and electronics components.

The act will further harm China-US relations, regardless of any cosmetic changes the Biden administration may make to Trump-era tariffs on Chinese imports of consumer goods, semi-manufactures and raw materials.

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Xinjiang Gets A New Party Boss, And Subtle Shift In Emphasis On Stability

THE NEW PARTY secretary in Xinjing, Ma Xingrui, promises no change in the region’s ‘stability’ policy, implying the human-rights confrontations between China and the United States and the EU will continue.

However, his early remarks touched on the development of Xinjiang’s supply chains and the need to integrate the region into the Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting an attempt to develop export routes through Eurasia to the EU to drive a commercial wedge between Washington and Brussels.

On December 25, when his appointment was announced, Ma pledged to maintain his predecessor Chen Quanguo’s focus on stability and implement President Xi Jinping’s blueprint for Xinjiang.

Two days later, during his first appearance in Urumqi, Ma shifted tone, saying Xinjiang should become more integrated with the Belt and Road Initiative and called for the region’s supply chains to be modernised and the climate for international business made more welcoming, including through tax breaks. He also said that development and security in the region had to be balanced and that maintaining stability was a long-term general goal.

Ma Xingrui, Party Boss of Xinjiang seen in Urumqi on December 27, 2021. Photo credit: Xinjiang DailyMa, 62, (left), has a commercial and trade background. He was most recently governor of Guangdong province, a post he took up in 2017 after a couple of years as Party boss in Shenzhen. A similarly short spell as a vice-minister of industry and information technology had followed six years running China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the main contractor for China’s space program, from 2007 to 2013 (Ma is an aerospace engineer by profession).

He also has security experience. When governor of Guangdong, Ma was a member of the central coordinating group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs as Beijing brought Hong Kong more tightly under its control through the crackdown on dissent via the National Security Law. Providing he does not blot his copybook in Xinjiang, Ma looks set for a seat on the Politburo following next year’s Party Congress.

Chen, four years Ma’s senior and under US sanctions concerning the treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, is moving to a yet unnamed new position. In his outgoing comments, he praised Xi’s ‘helmsmanship’ — a phrase popping up a lot of late — for what, according to state media, he called ‘the general social stability, high-quality economic growth and a happy and peaceful life for the region’s residents’.

China has repeatedly denied human rights abuses against Uighurs, saying its policies in Xinjiang address extremism and poverty.

On December 25, the regional government ran through the standard arguments of Beijing’s position in response to the bill that US President Joe Biden signed into law that bans imports of goods from Xinjiang unless companies can prove no forced labour is involved. Intel and Walmart are the latest US multinationals ensnared in this aspect of the dispute.

Even with the lures that Ma may dangle, US multinationals will not find it any easier to bite while the current mood in Washington prevails.

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The Hard Edge To The Soft Power Of Chinese Patriotism

WESTERN COMPANIES ARE not the first multinationals to suffer the power of a ‘patriotic’ Chinese consumer boycott when they get caught in the crosshairs of a political dispute.

US and European apparel retailers such as Nike, Adidas, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry are now getting the same treatment that South Korea’s confectionary-to-hotels conglomerate Lotte and Japanese carmaker Toyota were subjected to in the past.

They are being abandoned by Chinese consumers and celebrity endorsers, and ‘disappeared’ from social media marketing and retail outlets. Their own-brand stores may remain open, but they are empty of customers, who are turning to indigenous brands.

In this case, the core dilemma for Western firms is whether they should continue to use cotton from Xinjiang in their products and face Western consumers’ censure for condoning the use of forced labour and other human rights abuses against Uighurs. Or should they stop using it and face the loss of their lucrative Chinese markets through boycotts by Chinese consumers whose shopping patriotism is being whipped up by the government?

In January, the United States banned the import of cotton from Xinjiang, and the United Kingdom told domestic firms doing business in China that they would be fined if they cannot show their products are not linked to forced labour in the region. Then, earlier this month, those two countries were joined by Canada and the EU on sanctioning Chinese officials over Xinjiang.

China has retaliated with countersanctions and knows that turning the economic screws on Western companies is a potentially more powerful way to silence its critics, as evidenced by how it has bought the silence of Islamic governments over the treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang.

Western technology companies could be the next to be drawn into this as Xinjiang is a significant high-tech manufacturing sector feeding into global supply chains.

Beijing is defiantly maintaining in the face of international condemnation that accusations of cotton picked by forced labour and other charges of human rights abuses in Xinjiang are false. It describes its repression in Xinjiang as a campaign against terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.

This Bystander can allow that authorities are sincere in their view. Many governments view the violent repression of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism as legitimate. Some take their expression within ethnic minorities as evidence of them as being inherent in ethnic identity, as Beijing does with Uighurs.

Its policy response now abandons any pretence of affirmative action and accommodation of ethnic sensitivities towards the Uighurs and instead actively and often forcibly promotes their assimilation into the culture and society of China’ majority ethnic group, Han Chinese.

This justification of its near-total elimination of the Uighurs’ traditional ethnic identity appears a disproportionate policy response from the perspective of liberal democratic values. However, Beijing has no ideological qualms about repression and is restrained in its use only by its assessment of what is feasible and effective in pursuing its goals. Hong Kong provides another case in point.

Similarly, it calculates that Western sanctions and criticism over Xinjiang are unlikely to approach a severity that would force it to change course. It is betting that many Western companies will self-censor and quitely press their governments not to censure Beijing over Xinjiang and only criticise Beijing when they judge they will pay a higher price in their home market for not doing so.


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Pompeo Determines ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ and ‘Genocide’ in Xinjiang

Screenshot of US State Department's January 19, 2021 annoucement of its determination of atrocities in Xinjiang

ON THE TRUMP administration’s final full day, the US Department of State has designated China’s actions against the Muslim minority Uighurs in Xinjiang as crimes against humanity and genocide.

The United States is the first country to make this determination officially. Beijing’s response is likely to be fierce, and especially caustic towards outgoing US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, whose name is on the determination and is scarcely beloved in Beijing. (Update: it was, on both counts.)

Pompeo’s decision does not trigger sanctions but will carry moral weight with allies and potential legal implications for companies directly or indirectly conduction business with Xinjiang.

The US Congress passed legislation on December 27 calling for the State Department to determine within 90 days whether forced labour or other alleged crimes against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are crimes against humanity or genocide. By getting his department’s ruling out in less than one-third of that time, Pompeo has made sure that the incoming Biden administration will have an immediate point of conflict with Beijing to deal with from day one.

President-elect Joe Biden has used the term ‘genocide’ about Xinjiang, and human rights abuses are a more significant issue to Democrats than Republicans (save perhaps when it comes to China). Still, campaign-trail rhetoric carries a different weight to what is said once in office.

The United States has already banned cotton and tomato product imports made in Xinjiang. Calls for companies selling to Western markets to extricate themselves from Xinjiang-based supply chains are increasing. The Trump administration has also put several Chinese companies on its Entity List, and thus subject to export controls, due to their involvement in Xinjiang. It also imposed sanctions on senior Party leaders and state-run enterprises it accuses of being involved in repression in Xinjiang.

This Bystander suspects that the US Congress will follow-up with legislation imposing further penalties.


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Beijing Measures Its Response To US Xinjiang Sanctions

BEIJING’S RESPONSE TO the Trump administration’s sanctions on four Chinese officials held to be responsible for human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang is about as proportionately reciprocal as it gets.

China says it will bar entry to two Senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, one Congressman, Chris Smith, and the US State Department’s religious freedom ambassador, Sam Brownback. The grounds are the quartet’s criticism of Beijing’s treatment of people of faith.

Rubio co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a US government agency that monitors human rights and rule of law issues in China, which is also sanctioned.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying was similarly restrained in responding to a question from the Global Times at her daily briefing today:

It must be stressed that Xinjiang affairs are purely China’s internal affairs. The US has no right and no cause to interfere in them. The Chinese government is absolutely determined in its resolve to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests, to combat violent terrorist, separatist and religious extremist forces, and to oppose any external interference in Xinjiang affairs and China’s internal affairs.

Her restraint slipped moments later, however, in response to a different question about a tweet by the US State Department alleging the use of Uighur slave labour in the making of some products:

I also have some Uighur friends who I know are very happy in Xinjiang, breathing freely and enjoying their life, living in a completely different way than African Americans like George Floyd. We sincerely hope that those American politicians will really care about the serious racial issues in their own country and make efforts to protect the human rights of their ethnic minorities.

Hua also left open the door for further sanctions “as the situation develops”. That could be around the TikTok video-sharing app that Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, has hinted may be banned in the United States, where it is hugely popular, because of its Chinese ownership.

Separately, the US State Department has expanded its travel advisory for China to warn US nationals that they are at heightened risk of arbitrary arrest and of detention and exit bans. An e-mailed version sent on July 11 to US nationals in China said, “Security personnel may detain and/or deport US citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the PRC government.” Both the new internet law and Hong Kong’s national security law can be applied extra-territorially and to non-Chinese citizens.

None of which suggests much interest in Washington in repairing tattered ties, even if there is any substance to the suggestions that Beijing would like to prevent relations sinking even lower than they have.

Update: China has imposed sanctions on the US defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin in response to Washington’s approval for Taiwan to buy parts to refurbish its Lockheed Martin missiles.

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Financial Sanctions Over Xinjiang Will Further Fray US-China Relations

THERE IS NO other way to read the United States’ decision to go ahead with imposing sanctions on a Politburo member as anything but a marked deterioration in relations between the two countries. However, it fits squarely with Washington’s increasingly harsh condemnations of Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang provincial party secretary, whose position in the Politburo makes him the most senior Party leader to be so sanctioned by the United States, Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee, and the current and former directors of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, Wang Mingshan and Huo Liujun, face a range of sanctions. The Trump administration charges them to be responsible for human rights violations against the predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang.

It is now illegal in the United States to conduct financial transactions with the four. Their US-based assets are frozen, although it is unclear how extensive these are. All save for Huo may not enter the United States, a restriction that also applies to their families. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says other unnamed Party officials will also be banned from entering the United States. The Xinjiang Public Security Bureau as an institution is also sanctioned. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps may suffer the same fate.

The sanctions are being imposed under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which affords the administration broad authority to impose human-rights sanctions on foreign officials. The US president could have imposed the sanctions months ago but was reluctant to do so while they could complicate the completion and implementation of his Phase One trade deal, signed in January.

Beijing has repeatedly rejected international allegations of abuses of Uighurs in Xinjiang and held fast to the line that its policies there and in Hong Kong are internal matters in which the United States has no place to interfere. However, the timing of the sanctions’ announcement, coming in the wake of Foreign Minister Wang Yi calling for better bilateral ties, will be taken as a slap in the face — or perhaps a biting off of a hand holding an olive branch — that cannot be left unanswered.

Next week, the US president is expected to sign into law legislation that will give him sweeping sanction powers over officials accused of undermining Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ semi-autonomy and over banks and state entities that do business with them. Imposition of them will likely be driven by the US election timetable, but there will be some uncomfortable weeks for bankers in Hong Kong deciding where it will pay for their loyalties to lie.


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Uighurs Through The Looking Glass

TO THIS BYSTANDER’S eye, US President Donald Trump’s signing into law of property-blocking and visa sanctions on Chinese officials deemed to have committed human rights abuses in Xinjiang looks more to do with domestic US politics than further fraying of the already tattered relations between Washington and Beijing.

The US Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 with bipartisan support, a further example of the hardening attitude of Republican and Democratic lawmakers towards China, a change of direction in US politics in which the president has been in the vanguard. There is no political mileage for him in standing in the way of it.

The White House is also scrambling to limit any damage to the president from a forthcoming book written by the veteran US neo-con diplomat John Bolton, who was Trump’s national security advisor until the two men fell out. Bolton reportedly claims in the book that ‘Trump said that Xi [Jinping] should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do’.

This Bystander would hazard that, if any such discussion took place, Xi probably couched it in vague terms about interring Muslim terrorists, knowing that the US president, famously disinterested in policy detail, was unlikely to press him further on the topic.

China’s response to the new US law was very much along those lines. According to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress:

Xinjiang-related issues are nothing about human rights, ethnicity or religion at all, but about combating violence, terrorism and extremism…The United States has maliciously attacked China’s counterterrorism and deradicalization efforts, attempting to destroy the favorable situation of stability and development in Xinjiang, according to the statement.

The law is unlikely to do anything to alter Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, and the direct impact of any sanctions is likely to be negligible. Beijing has already ridden out international condemnation over the detentions of up to 1 million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, in ‘re-education camps’.

Even in this current Alice Through The Looking Glass world of US-China relations, in which the US president condemns China for something he reportedly said it should do, Beijing will regard the law as part of what it sees as Washington’s broader push to weaken it. Thus its response to Trump’s signing will be bombastic, but proportionate and asymmetric.

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One World, Two Norms Of Human Rights

DECEMBER 10TH WAS International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that enshrined the principle that human rights are indivisible, inalienable and universal. It was also the opening day of the two-day South-South Human Rights Forum in Beijing which brought together some 70 representatives of developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America on the premise that human rights are country-specific. The forum is another building block in China’s systematic attempts to construct a new international order with Chinese characteristics.

The first such forum, in 2017, issued the Beijing Declaration, which defined human rights primarily in economic terms, framing the rights to subsistence and development as the primary basic human rights. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson reiterated that definition yesterday, highlighting China’s achievements in providing food and shelter, the alleviation of poverty, and the provision of health, education and social security as evidence of human rights advancement in the country.

The Chinese government and people attach great importance to human rights cause, espouses a people-centered view of human rights, integrates the principle of universality of human rights with national conditions, and regards the rights to subsistence and development as its primary and basic human rights, opening a new path of human rights protection with Chinese characteristics based on its national conditions.

Such inversion of the notion that human rights are universal was called out by the European Union. In a wide-ranging statement marking International Human Rights Day, its delegation in China noted:

China has made remarkable progress in the social and economic situation of its citizens, including poverty alleviation, gender equality, improved access to health and education, and reduced maternal and infant mortality.

At the same time, basic human rights in the civic and political field, including rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and also in the Constitution of China, are not being guaranteed. China is yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it signed in 1998.

China was one of the countries that voted for the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but that was during the civil war that led to the founding of the People’s Republic.

The EU expressed its particular concern over human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Reports point to severe restrictions of the freedom of expression and association, and of the freedom of religion or belief in all of China; as well as continuous large-scale extra-judicial detentions. Destruction of mosques, temples and other religious sites take place systematically. Mass detentions of Uyghurs and other minorities in political re-education centres and intimidation of citizens by mass surveillance in Xinjiang still continue. Uyghurs abroad, including in the EU, are being harassed and in some instances returned to China involuntarily.

With the revelation of two troves of leaked documents on the Xinjiang detentions and the US House of Representatives passing legislation calling for targeted sanctions in response to the detention Uighurs, Beijing has been put uncharacteristically on the back foot. Shohrat Zakir, the deputy Party boss in Xinjiang and regional government chairman, said earlier this week that all those sent to what Beijing calls re-education camps had now ‘graduated’ from their ‘de-radicalization courses’.

How many of the reported up to 1 million detained Uighurs that covers is impossible to verify independently. The official line is that the figures are dynamic, with people coming and leaving. So no precise number can be provided.

Regardless, state media continues to portray this in the light of the new norms of country-specific and economically based human rights China wishes to establish.

Until only a few years ago, Xinjiang often fell victim to violent terrorist attacks which killed many innocent people. It was precisely the regional government’s decisive counter-terrorism measures including the establishment of vocational education and training centers that turned the situation around…Xinjiang’s preventive counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures so far have proven effective in protecting the human rights of the 25 million people in the region.

The BBC’s account of Zakir’s statement, which asserted that those released from the centres had ‘realised stable employment’, implied that that could mean forced labour in factories. That would be a different and far darker interpretation of subsistence and development-based human rights.

Chinese officials are deeply aggrieved that Western governments and media portray the situation in Xinjiang as one of domestic human rights and not as tackling international terrorism.  They take this rejection of their line to be (yet one more) purposeful attack on China, and a willful disregard of the ‘truth and facts‘ released by Chinese authorities. Those same officials will readily point out that the United States fights Islamic terrorism by waging foreign wars — although that is an analogy that Beijing should be careful in pushing too far with regards to Xinjiang however differently it wants to frame its own norms of human rights.


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China’s New Problems With Total Marginalisation Of Minorities

REPORTS SUBMITTED BY by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that up to 1 million Uighurs are being held in camps in Xinjiang ‘under the pretext’ of counterterrorism sent this Bystander to our archives. In April last year, we wrote:

China’s anti-terrorism policies are based on the same techniques as Beijing uses to crack down on political dissent, which may betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem being faced.

We have also noted the shortcomings of such an approach when it comes to winning hearts and minds. Religious restrictions only serve to feed a vicious cycle of repression and violence. If counter-terrorism policy aims to alleviate the conditions and reduce the underlying factors that give rise to radicalisation and recruitment among the domestic population, then characterising all Uighurs as being somewhere on the terrorist/separatist spectrum is not going to achieve that.

Beijing denies the allegations that Uighurs are held in detention camps and accused foreign media of distorting the Committee’s deliberations, but has made a rare admission that “those deceived by religious extremism… shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education”.

It could be in this particular case that an original accusation that the extensive state security presence in Xinjiang has turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp has morphed into an allegation of detention camps being set up. For the record, the UN committee’s published comment of concern was:

The arbitrary, prolonged and incommunicado mass detention of Uighurs under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism, with estimates of the numbers of detained ranging from “tens of thousands to upwards of a million”.

Such accusations are long-standing. There is no denying the massive security operation and mass state surveillance in Xinjiang that reaches into every aspect of daily life and that Uighurs are detained for what authorities call ‘preventive security measures’. The lower end of the range cited by the UN committee could be accommodated without the need for special camps.

Authorities argue that their actions have prevented Xinjiang becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya’,  That strikes this Bystander to be over-egging the pudding by the output of a battery farm.

True, Beijing has been fighting a low-level but increasingly violent insurgency in its natural-resources-rich western reaches for decades. Today, that self-evidently poses a threat to Xinjiang’s role as a critical logistics hub for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Yet, the 8.4 million-strong Uighur minority in Xinjiang, mostly Turkic Sunni Muslims, are far from universally supportive of the tiny separatist groups that would like to re-establish a republic of East Turkestan.

They do resent the growing Han dominance of the province, which was once more four-fifths Uighur but is now majority Han Chinese, and a majority that does not understand why the new minority does not feel more grateful for being forcibly made more Chinese.



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China’s Islamic State Dilemma

THE KILLING OF a Chinese hostage by the self-described Islamic State poses a dilemma for Beijing. It does not want to get dragged into the Syria-Iraq front of a war on terror it does not see as its fight and in which at best it would be a junior partner, not the equal on the world stage that it wishes to portray itself as. At the same time, it needs to preserve the narrative that Mother China — for which read the Party – looks after all its citizens when they venture abroad.

It is unclear under what circumstances Fan Jinghui fell into Islamic State’s hands. Described as a freelance consultant from Beijing, he was captured in September, according to Islamic State, which demanded a ransom for his release. That he has perished shocked Chinese. President Xi Jinping said in Manila, where he is attending the APEC summit, that terrorism was the “common enemy of humanity” and that “the Chinese government is opposed to all forms of terrorism, and will firmly crack down on any violent and terrorist activities.”

There have been unconfirmed reports that China is considering joining the Russian-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but at best any presence is likely to be token and focused on humanitarian operations. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi summed up Beijing’s dilemma when he told the UN Security Council session in New York earlier this month that “the world cannot afford to stand by and look on with folded arms, but must also not arbitrarily interfere”.

What Xi’s condemnation may turn out to mean is a further crackdown on Uighurs on the excuse that a handful of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang has gone to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. On Friday, state media said that security forces had disbanded a ‘terrorist group’ in Xinjiang that was “directly guided by an overseas extremists group”, and during the 56-day operation had killed 28 people allegedly responsible for a deadly attack on the Sogan coal mine in Asku on September 18 in which 16 people died. Update: Flamethrowers were used to flush out militants hiding in a cave, who were then shot, according to the BBC.

Update: Chinese are reportedly among hostages taken by an al-Qaida-affiliated group that attacked a Radisson hotel in Mali on Friday. Later update: Three China Railway Construction Corp. managers were among the 21 hostages reported killed in the siege; four other Chinese hostages survived.


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