The White House on Thursday blacklisted companies producing goods by children and forced labor in Xinjiang to punish Beijing for its “cruel and inhumane” genocide against ethnic and religious minorities in the western province.
The administration said the crackdown on polysilicon makers and other entities reflects President Biden’s commitment with other Group of Seven nations to respond to the horrific treatment of Muslim Uyghurs. The communist party’s use of labor camps and a broad surveillance network in Xinjiang comes on top of Beijing’s suppression of Hong Kong and Tibet and aggression toward Taiwan.
Polysilicon is a key material in solar energy panels, a field in which Chinese firms have dominated in recent years.
“These actions demonstrate our commitment to imposing additional costs on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for engaging in cruel and inhumane forced labor practices and ensuring that Beijing plays by the rules of fair trade as part of the rules-based international order,” a White House fact sheet said. “The PRC’s forced labor practices run counter to our values as a nation and expose American consumers to unethical practices. They also leave American businesses and workers to compete on an uneven playing field by allowing firms to gain advantage over their competitors by exploiting workers and artificially suppressing wages.”
The new order instructs U.S. ports to detain shipments that contain silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., a company located in Xinjiang, and its subsidiaries.
The White House said the Withhold Release Order comes on top of similar actions against cotton, tomato and seafood products believed to produced with forced labor.
The administration added the company and four others to an “entity list” that restricts the transfer of their commodities, software, and technology under the belief these firms have mistreated Uyghurs.
Also, the White House added polysilicon produced in parts of China to a formal list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor. Typically, the Labor Department updates the list every two years.
“This update is the first time a good has been added outside of that two-year cycle, highlighting its strong response to the severity of the ongoing human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang,” the fact sheet said.
China’s foreign and commerce ministries quickly condemned the new sanctions, saying Western reports of labor abuses and ethnic repression in Xinjiang amounted to the “lie of the century.”
“We will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and institutions” if the U.S. does not repeal the moves, Commerce Ministry spokesperson Gao Feng told reporters in Beijing.
Chinese business leaders told the state-controlled Global Times news website that the U.S. represents only about a tenth of global demand for polysilicon and the ban should not have a “significant impact” on Chinese exporters. An estimated 45% of the world’s polysilicon is produced in Xinjiang.