US blacklists more Chinese companies over human rights abuses in Xinjiang

The Commerce Department names 14 firms that it says have ‘enabled Beijing’s campaign of repression’ against Uyghurs.

US Blacklists More Chinese Companies Over Human Rights Abuses in Xinjiang
The US government in January designated abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) as part of a campaign of genocide, and in response has ramped up punishments against China. Image: Todenhoff via FlickrCC BY NC-ND 2.0

The US Commerce Department on Friday added 14 Chinese companies to its Entity List, for direct involvement in human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), saying they have “enabled Beijing’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim minority groups.

The action restricts the export, reexport, or in-country transfer of commodities, software, and technology subject to US export regulations in cases in which the entities are a party to the transactions.

“The Department of Commerce remains firmly committed to taking strong, decisive action to target entities that are enabling human rights abuses in Xinjiang or that use US technology to fuel China’s destabilising military modernisation efforts,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a statement.

Rushan Abbas, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for Uyghurs, welcomed the move by the Biden administration to blacklist more Chinese companies.

“We welcome the US government’s sanctions on 14 companies involved in the genocide of the Uyghurs,” she told RFA.

“We hope that such measures will be taken by the European Union and other governments in the future, and call on the international community to be aware of the trade relations that are enabled by the enormous plight of Uyghurs in East Turkestan,” Abbas said using the Uyghur name for the XUAR.

The Commerce Department previously blacklisted dozens of Chinese government or commercial entities that it said were connected to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR.

When asked about the addition of Chinese companies to the US Entity List at a press conference in Beijing on Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the government opposed the measure, calling the list “a tool for suppressing specific companies and industries in China under the pretext of human rights” and a means for the US “to destabilise Xinjiang and contain China.”

“China will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and foil US attempts to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” he said.

The US government in January designated abuses in the XUAR as part of a campaign of genocide, and in response has ramped up punishments against China, including targeting Chinese firms that manufacture solar-panel material, wigs, electronics, tomatoes, and cotton with suspected forced Uyghur labour.

‘A good step’

Rayhan Asat, international human rights lawyer and nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council said the latest sanctions will prevent Americans and US-listed companies from contributing to genocide and from implicating unwitting consumers in crimes against humanity.

Given the unprecedented human rights abuses occurring in the Uyghur region, it’s highly appropriate for governments to take action — including sanctioning companies that participate in and even facilitate such abuse.

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator, Chinese Human Rights Defenders

“Entities aiding and abetting genocide and crimes against humanity cannot continue to benefit from the U.S. financial market,” she said. “The US has laws and regulations which businesses must follow. These standards exist to protect human rights and must be applied without exception.”

William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, called the move by the US “a good step.”

“Given the unprecedented human rights abuses occurring in the Uyghur region, it’s highly appropriate for governments to take action — including sanctioning companies that participate in and even facilitate such abuse,” he told RFA. “From that point of view, this is a good step.”

But Nee said that Washington’s actions would probably have received greater buy-in from the international community if officials provided detailed and specific evidence of the abuses and tied it to the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the normative framework for assessing business and human rights compliance.

The framework requires that businesses conduct human rights due diligence to show how they identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for human rights impacts.

“So, if the US government’s criticism, and ultimately sanctions, were tied to this process, it would be more beneficial in producing a multiplying effect — especially since many European jurisdictions are developing human rights due diligence laws,” Nee said.

Chinese authorities have conducted a campaign of mass incarceration in the XUAR since 2017 during which an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been locked up in a vast network of internment camps.

Beijing has denied all allegations of abuse of the Uyghurs, saying that the facilities are vocational training centers set up to prevent religious radicalisation and protect the country from terrorism.

But reports by RFA, other media outlets, rights groups, and independent researchers indicate that the detainees are being held against their will and are subjected to political indoctrination and maltreatment.

EU Parliament’s resolution

The addition of new Chinese companies to the US Entity List came a day after the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution on Thursday calling on the EU to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics unless China improves the human rights situations in Hong Kong, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), home to predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority.

The 28-point resolution mainly condemned China’s recent actions in Hong Kong and the erosion of freedoms there, including the forced closure last week of the independent newspaper Apple Daily, the arrests of journalists, the silencing of pro-democracy activists, and the rapid deterioration of the human rights situation.

The resolution also noted “the importance of the EU continuing to raise the issue of human rights violations in China, in particular the case of minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, at every political and human rights dialogue with Chinese authorities and in line with the EU’s commitment to project a strong, clear and unified voice in its approach to China.”

The resolution repeated a call for the EU and its member states to work towards the “holding of a special session or urgent debate on China at the UN Human Rights Council and the launching of an independent UN investigation on China.”

The resolution passed with 578 votes in favor, 29 against, and 73 abstentions.

When asked about the move at the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s press conference, a spokesman said the matter was “not worth any attention.”

This story was published with permission from Radio Free Asia.

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