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Congress passes import ban to punish China for Uyghur abuse

In a rare show of bipartisanship, both houses of Congress voted unanimously to ban the import of goods from the Xinjiang region of China made with forced labor.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to pass legislation banning imports from the Xinjiang region of China, the latest step by the United States to sanction China for its human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims that have been deemed a genocide against the religious and ethnic minority.

The legislation, which passed both chambers of Congress unanimously this week in a rare show of bipartisanship, bans the import of products made with the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims. Companies in Xinjiang can be granted an exception to the ban if they prove to the United States that their goods were not made with compulsory labor.

The bill passed the Senate through unanimous consent as part of a compromise that allowed Democrats to secure the confirmation of three foreign policy officials, including an ambassador to China, who will be voted into office Thursday afternoon and will play a role in enforcing the legislation.

While the policy to crack down on Beijing had support from Democrats and Republicans alike, its momentum had stalled in recent weeks as Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and one of the bill's co-authors, tried to tack it on to the annual defense authorization bill and congressional lawmakers grappled with an overwhelming legislative agenda.

Major corporations including Nike and Coca-Cola have also lobbied against the bill, warning of its potential impacts on an already strained supply chain.

The policy marks a major financial blow for China over its alleged abuse and detainment of Uyghur Muslims in mass internment camps.

Its passage comes just hours after the Biden administration announced a series of sanctions against Chinese government agencies and biotechnology companies, effectively banning U.S. companies from selling technology to the organizations without government approval.

The Commerce Department said these organizations were providing technology to the government and military that was being used to further violence against cultural minorities, although China has claimed no abuses.

"The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives. Unfortunately, [China] is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups.  We cannot allow U.S. commodities, technologies, and software that support medical science and biotechnical innovation to be diverted toward uses contrary to U.S. national security,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a statement.

The bill is now headed to President Joe Biden's desk and he is expected to sign the legislation into law.

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