The United States House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation restricting imports from China's Xinjiang region over its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority, as tensions continue to escalate between Washington and Beijing.
Members of the House voted 428-1 to pass the "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act," which requires corporations to prove "with clear and convincing evidence" that any goods imported from the region were not made using forced labor.
"Right now, Beijing is orchestrating a brutal and accelerating campaign of repression against the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers ahead of the vote.
"In Xinjiang, across China, millions are enduring outrageous human rights abuses: from mass surveillance and disciplinary policing; to mass torture including solitary confinement and forced sterilizations; intimidation of journalists and activists who have dared to expose the truth.
"And, the government of China's exploitation of forced labor reaches across the oceans to our shores and across the world," she was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The U.S. Senate has previously approved a similar measure and the two will now need reconciling.
The bill will then need to be signed into law by President Joe Biden and it was unclear whether it had White House support. Republicans have accused Biden's White House and his fellow Democrats in Congress of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president's renewable energy agenda. Xinjiang supplies much of the world's materials for solar panels.
The White House – and congressional Democrats – deny delaying the bills.
The vote comes shortly after the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over what it termed China's "genocide" of the Uyghur minority and other human rights abuses, a move that drew a harsh rebuke from Beijing.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. government imposed similar restrictions on some Chinese imports, including solar panel materials, over Beijing's treatment of Uyghurs.
In a separate 428-0 vote, the House also passed a resolution stating that the International Olympic Committee "failed to adhere to its own human rights commitments" amid doubts about the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has accused a top Communist Party leader of sexual assault.
On Wednesday, Britain also joined the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics along with Australia, Turkey and the United States. The United Kingdom will not send ministers to the Winter Games in the Chinese capital Beijing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament, as discord over a slew of issues strains relations.
"There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing," Johnson told the British Parliament, according to AFP.
As with the U.S. and Australian moves, he confirmed athletes would attend still, saying, "I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible."
China accused the U.S. of violating the Olympic spirit on Tuesday, arguing that the U.S. is attempting to interfere with the Beijing Games "out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumors," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.
The boycott "seriously violates the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto 'more united,'" Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao told reporters, including from Reuters.
Human rights groups say that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Organizations and foreign governments have found evidence of what they say are mass detentions, forced labor, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilization. Washington has described it as "genocide."
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training canters aimed at reducing the appeal of extremism.
In a new report published Wednesday, the Uyghur Human Rights Project – a U.S.-based advocacy group – said it had identified more than 300 Uyghur and other Muslim intellectuals believed to be detained in Xinjiang since 2017.
China has denied the accusations concerning its treatment of the Uyghurs and there was no immediate comment on the House vote from Beijing.