EU Calls For Xinjiang Observer Mission, as US Targets More China Firms Over Forced Labor Concerns

The European Union on Monday called on China to allow independent observers to visit the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to investigate treatment of the Uyghurs, amid growing concerns about the fate of the 1.8 million or more believed have been sent to internment camps.

EU’s Council President Charles Michel raised concerns about Xinjiang and Tibet , as well as China’s imposition of national security laws on Hong in a video conference summit with China’s President Xi Jinping, he said in a statement.

“We reiterated our concerns over China’s treatment of minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the treatment of human rights defenders and journalists,” Michel said.

“We asked for access for independent observers to Xinjiang and we called for the release of the arbitrarily-detained Swedish citizen Gui Minhai and two Canadian citizens,” Michel said after the meeting, which was originally scheduled as an in-person summit with all of the EU’s 27 leaders, but was shifted online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gui Minhai, a naturalized Swedish citizen, was sentenced in February to 10 years for “illegally providing intelligence overseas” after disappearing from his home in Thailand in 2015, resurfacing in China four months later.

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig have been detained in China since December 2018 on espionage charges believed to be in retaliation for the Canadian government’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an official for Huawei.

Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of camps since April 2017.

Beginning in October 2018, China acknowledged the existence of the camps, but described them as voluntary “vocational centers” set up to combat radical Islamic terrorism.

EU sharpens focus on XUAR abuses

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service which has found that detainees are mostly held against their will and forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

The EU, whose previous requests for access to the XUAR for its observers have been denied, has been less vocal in its criticism of the three-year-old Uyghur camp system than the United States, which is locked in a broad political and economic confrontation with China.

Last week, however, French President Emmanuel Macron called the repression of the Uyghurs “unacceptable” and vowed to condemn it “in the strongest possible terms” after receiving to a letter expressing concerns over abuses in Xinjiang from a group of around 30 French MPs, according to a report by the news outlet EURACTIV.

“All these practices are unacceptable because they run counter to the universal principles enshrined in international human rights conventions, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” Macron said, adding that France will “remain fully mobilized on the situation of the Uyghurs.”

And in early September, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s five-nation tour of Europe was dogged by criticism of Xinjiang and other issues that have strained Beijing’s ties with Washington.

At Wang’s final stop, in Berlin, German counterpart Heiko Maas urged China to allow a UN mission to investigate the internment camps holding Uyghurs in the XUAR.

Forced labor suspicions

In Washington, the Trump administration announced new customs actions Monday to block imports of Chinese products believed to be produced with forced labor.

The Withhold Release Orders, measures intended to prevent goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from entering the United States, targeted three entities from Xinjiang and one from Anhui province in eastern China.

The banned items from XUAR firms are hair products made in the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park; apparel produced by Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing Co., Ltd. and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Co., Ltd; and cotton produced and processed by Xinjiang Junggar Cotton and Linen Co., Ltd. In addition, computer parts made by Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co., Ltd. in Anhui were flagged.

Monday’s order also covered “all products made with labor from the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education Center in Xinjiang,” the Department of Homeland Security said.

“Information reasonably indicates that this “re-education” internment camp, which is often called a Vocational Skills Education and Training Center, is providing prison labor to nearby manufacturing entities in Xinjiang. CBP identified forced labor indicators including highly coercive/unfree recruitment, work and life under duress, and restriction of movement,” said DHS, referring to the Customs and Border Protection agency.

“By taking this action, DHS is combating illegal and inhumane forced labor, a type of modern slavery, used to make goods that the Chinese government then tries to import into the United States. When China attempts to import these goods into our supply chains, it also disadvantages American workers and businesses,” said acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli.

“The series of actions CBP has taken against imports from China demonstrates the pervasive use of unethical and inhumane labor conditions in China, and CBP will not turn a blind eye,” said Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the new orders “demonstrate that the world will not stand for the PRC’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, which include subjecting individuals to forced labor and stripping them of their freedom and agency to choose how and where they work,” Pompeo said.

From Germany, World Uyghur Congress President Dolkun Isa said the new customs measures “will send a strong message to Beijing that China’s continued use of Uyghur forced labor is unacceptable and must stop.”

He told RFA’s Uyghur Service that the WUC “urges the European Union, which is holding a summit with China over fair trade, to follow the suit and end China’s treatment of Uyghurs as modern day slaves.”

 

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