US legislation against Xinjiang companies hurts local workers

By Liu Xin and Yu Jincui Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/23 20:58:40

Workers make components for earphones in a factory in the city of Artux in Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on September 14. Photo: Yu Jincui/GT

The US has continued the use of affairs related to Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to interfere with China's domestic affairs, as it proceeded with the latest legislation in the name of "forced labor" protection to sanction Chinese companies related to Xinjiang.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, as well as scholars and residents of Xinjiang from different ethnic groups, refuted the US' accusations that China is using "forced labor" in its Xinjiang region or forcing ethnic groups to work in other Chinese cities. They said that however the US tries to smear China, it will not change the fact that people in Xinjiang are making their own efforts to have a better life. 

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the legislation that would ban imports from Xinjiang because of the "suspected use of state-sponsored forced labor," US media reported. The bill would require any importer of Xinjiang-sourced products to prove that it was not made using "forced labor."

This is the US' latest move to pressure China over its policies in the Xinjiang region. US President Donald Trump signed a Uygur bill in June, and the US government imposed sanctions on senior officials in Xinjiang and also put some companies in Xinjiang on its Entity List in recent months. 

After passing the House, the bill, called the Uygur Forced Labor Prevention Act, now goes to the Senate. Differences between the two versions would have to be reconciled before the bill is sent to Trump to sign. 

Chinese experts said that like the earlier Uygur bill, the so-called forced labor bill is also based on lies by anti-China forces, think tanks and media organizations. By using the human rights excuse, it aims to hurt Chinese companies, especially those in the textile sector, and to contain China's development, experts say.

According to the text of the bill posted on the website of US Congress, the accusations that China is using forced labor in its Xinjiang region or "forcing" ethnic minorities in Xinjiang to work in other places outside the region in China are based on reports from Radio Free Asia, a notorious anti-China propaganda outlet, and a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a "right-wing, militaristic" think tank funded by US and Western governments, mega-corporations and an eye-popping array of weapons manufacturers.

China has lodged stern representation to the US, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a press conference on Wednesday. He also said that China will take all measures to safeguard its companies' interests, national sovereignty and rights for development.

The US has already seized products from China using the excuse that they were "suspected of being involved with forced labor problems" in Xinjiang. 

Zheng Yuesheng, manager of a hair product company in Hotan Prefecture of Xinjiang, told the Global Times that products made by his company were seized by the US last year. 

"The incident came suddenly and there has been no investigation… We never used any forced labor in the company, and all employees sign labor contracts in accordance with related laws and regulations," he said. 

As for a more sensational accusation involving a hair products company in Xinjiang forcing women from ethnic groups to cut their hair to provide material sources for the company's products, Zheng said those who told the lies were crazy and ignorant of the industry.

"Raw materials for hair products are mainly imported, for example from Southeast Asia, and some are bought from hair salons or people who sold their hair for money in cities across China," he said.

Products of apparel and textile companies were also reportedly seized by US customs in the previous month. Some US politicians and media have long hyped claims that these companies in Xinjiang use "forced labor" and urged other countries to sever business ties with them. They hope to strike a heavy blow against China, as Xinjiang accounts for more than 80 percent of China's cotton production, observers said.   

While the US accuses the Xinjiang region of prevalent forced labor practices, local workers are living a different life from what Washington claims. Working in the cotton, textile and garment industries has helped lift them out of poverty. They are enjoying a better and more prosperous life that has made them, especially women of ethnic minorities, more confident and independent. 

Before Nurgul Anwar started working as a garment and textile worker in Pahteklik county of Kashi, she was a housewife, cooking, washing, and looking after her toddler all day long. The income of the family mainly came from her husband, who ran a grocery store that could only bring in less than 3,000 yuan ($442) per month. When she wanted to join the factory in 2015, she faced opposition from her mother-in-law.

"I got 900 yuan for my first month of training in the factory. I gave all the money to my mother-in-law, then she agreed, and I went out to work," Nurgul told the Global Times. 

Now Nurgul has been promoted to be a team leader and she can earn more than 4,000 yuan. With her help, her husband has opened a furniture store. "Some people say women cannot go to work, but I want to work. I hope I can be quicker in making clothes and earning more money to make life better," she said, with a twinkle in her eye.  

Chairman of the board of the factory where Nurgul works, surnamed Li, refuted the "forced labor" claims hyped by the US as "unjust and unreasonable." 

"No employees in my factory are forced to work, they work voluntarily, as their position in the family became so different since they began to work," Li said. 

Li's clothing factory has provided 3,000 jobs for poverty-stricken villagers in eight nearby counties and towns, 2,000 of which went to people from ethnic groups, mainly Uygur women. They have become qualified industrial workers instead of poor farmers, said Li. 

The clothes Li's factory makes are mainly for domestic customers, but it also engages in foreign trade. Li told the Global Times that because of the US pressure imposed under the guise of "forced labor," an order for pajamas and plaid shirts worth more than 5 million yuan from the US last year was suspended. Her company has stopped taking US orders. 

As foreign trade only makes up a small part of her factory's business, she is not worried about how to make up for the losses caused by the US ban. She said the company could pay more attention to developing the domestic market, and the Central Asian, South Asian and European markets are also huge.   

In contrast to some Western media's claims of minorities being forced to work, residents in Xinjiang enjoy an increasing employment rate based on their own choices.

Xinjiang has vigorously implemented employment projects, enhanced vocational training, and expanded employment channels and capacity. From 2014 to 2019, the total number of people employed in Xinjiang rose from 11.35 million to 13.3 million, an increase of 17.2 percent. 

US and some Western politicians like to use human rights as a weapon to sanction Chinese companies in Xinjiang, claiming they are doing good for Xinjiang minorities. However, their moves are hurting local residents' rights to employment and development, Xu Jianying, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Observers also said that the US' attempt to cut Chinese companies out of the textile and apparel industry chain would not succeed, as it would take a long time and cost too much. But Chinese companies should be more cautious when doing business with the US, they said. 

Aside from US politicians, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called for an international mission to visit Xinjiang due to concerns over the Uygur minority, Reuters reported.

China has never refused foreign visits to Xinjiang. During a press conference on September 15, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that China has made arrangements for diplomats from the EU to visit Xinjiang to see what is really happening there with their own eyes, and China firmly opposes any presumption of guilt before the visits. 

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