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Why China and US Disagree on Forced Labor in Xinjiang

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The US and China have many trade disputes, but none perhaps as explosive as accusations about forced labor being used in China’s Xinjiang region. The Chinese government, which vehemently denies the charges, says outsiders have misconstrued a rural jobs program that aims to improve living standards for ethnic minorities in poor regions. But many people from one targeted group -- the mainly Muslim Uyghurs living in Xinjiang -- say that they have no choice but to participate or risk having themselves or family members put in detention. The US, which says the program contributes to a campaign of genocide, is stepping up the pressure on China with a new law that takes effect June 21.

Under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in December, the US government assumes that anything made even partially in Xinjiang is produced with forced labor and can’t be imported unless companies are able to provide “clear and compelling evidence” otherwise. That raises the prospect that the ban could be extended to other Chinese regions, since workers and goods from Xinjiang flow across the country. The new process will effectively supplant about a dozen existing orders barring the import of some goods from Xinjiang, including cotton, tomatoes and solar panel material. China has warned that the new law would “severely” damage ties between the two nations and has vowed to take countermeasures.