The Trump administration banned the import of up to $250 million worth of Chinese goods produced using the forced labor of Uighurs as part of its ongoing effort to oppose Chinese human-rights abuses, according to a top national security official.
The Department of Homeland Security slapped import bans on goods produced by five Xinjiang-based industrial parks and companies suspected of using Uighur forced labor on Monday. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary for the DHS, said that the bans—which he said will affect between $200 to $250 million worth of goods annually—are just a start. He confirmed that an unprecedented region-wide ban of all Xinjiang-sourced goods is currently in the works, pending the resolution of legal questions about such a ban.
"This order is intended to disrupt trade," Cuccinelli said. "The president strongly believes the American people are more than supportive of absorbing those sorts of disruptions in exchange for being able to interrupt the use of slave labor."
The DHS import ban will target a variety of goods, from hair products to cotton to computer parts. Cuccinelli stressed that the sanctions are "immediately appealing" for their stance in favor of human rights, as well as their protection of American businesses that do not rely on slave labor.
"[The orders are] also protective of American workers and businesses who want to play by the rules," he said. "And you know, going up against genuinely slave labor is just not fair competition."
The DHS's import ban is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Trump administration to oppose the Chinese government's brutal oppression of Uighurs, which critics say amounts to genocide. The Treasury Department sanctioned the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in July, dealing a blow to a paramilitary group that employs 12 percent of Xinjiang's total population. President Donald Trump also signed into law the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act in June, authorizing sanctions on all Chinese officials who took part in human-rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang.
The forced labor program is just one facet of Beijing's repression of Muslim Uighurs. The Chinese government has imprisoned between one to two million Uighurs in concentration camps, subjecting prisoners to brainwashing and torture regimes lasting years. The government has also forcefully sterilized thousands of Uighur women, causing birth rates in the community to plummet. While Beijing justifies the mass imprisonment as part of its crackdown on terrorism, human-rights advocates have found that the authorities often jail people for innocent activities such as going to a mosque.
Cuccinelli said that he expects to implement a region-wide ban on all Xinjiang-sourced goods "in the not-too-distant future," a stringent measure that he says is unprecedented in the department's history. He said the DHS—which typically bans goods from specific companies rather than regions—is currently working through a "legal checklist" to make sure that the ban will stand legal scrutiny when it is formally announced.
"Because [a region-wide ban] is somewhat unique, it is being more rigorously analyzed from a legal perspective," he said. "We need to ensure that we have confidence in the legal analysis … and we have the evidence to strongly support it. We don't want a close call, we want to hit this out of the park as we proceed."