It’s Time for Trade Negotiators to Start Talking About China’s Human Rights Abuses

The “phase one” trade deal between the United States and China is… probably done?

President Trump on Friday took to Twitter to announce the deal, which he called “very large” and “an amazing deal for all.” But specific details about the agreement remain unclear — and what is out about it doesn’t seem to be all that great.

But while political pundits are laser-focused on how the deal will impact things like tariff rates and agricultural purchases, evidence is mounting that China is adding “a sickening new dimension” to one of the world’s most serious human rights crises.

And although U.S. trade negotiators have strategically stayed quiet about China’s human rights abuses in an effort to get a trade deal done — and although China really does not like to talk about them — given that these abuses impact the global supply chain and overall trade flows… maybe it’s time to start talking about them?

It’s long been reported that China has placed at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities from the Xinjiang region into concentration camps, which China says are “vocational training centers.”

But in November, The New York Times published a bombshell report that included 400+ pages of internal Chinese Communist Party documents that showcased just how orchestrated this effort is — even Chinese leader Xi Jinping is implicated. Other leaks from inside the camps provide a glimpse into life inside, describing how China uses physical and psychological torture in an attempt to rid the Uighurs and other detainees of their language, religion and culture.

Sadly, it doesn’t appear that things improve for these prisoners once they leave the camps, either. A new paper from Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, finds that China is placing “limited but apparently growing numbers of detainees… into different forms of forced labor.” Zenz writes:

“19 cities and provinces from the nation’s most developed regions are pouring billions of Chinese Yuan (RMB) into the establishment of factories in minority regions. Some of them directly involve the use of internment camp labor, while others use Uyghur women who must then leave their children in educational or day care facilities in order to engage in full time factory labor. Another aspect of Beijing’s labor schemes in the region involve the essentially mandatory relocation of large numbers of minority workers from Xinjiang to participating companies in eastern China.

“Soon, many or most products made in China that rely at least in part on low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing, may contain elements of involuntary ethnic minority labor from Xinjiang.”

Zenz’s entire paper is worth a read, as it makes clear the extent to which China is using forced labor in many of its factories. But Zenz isn’t the first to highlight this problem — there long has been evidence that China is using forced labor to make many of the products that line our store shelves, particularly in textiles.

The New York Times reported on these forced labor factories about a year ago, and around that time the Associated Press even connected one of the factories to a U.S. sportswear supplier. Companies from Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola to Adidas and Gap also run supply chains through Xinjiang, meaning that it is plausible, if not certain, that at least some of their products have been made in these factories.  

So what can be done about these human rights abuses?

Zenz argues that until “Xinjiang’s extrajudicial internment camp network and related factories are fully shut down, and all forms of skills training and related employment in the region are made completely voluntary” it will be impossible to prove that China’s exported products “do not involve any form of coerced ethnic minority labor.” As such, “western and foreign companies must fully divest their supply chains not only from Xinjiang, but also from Chinese companies with significant operations in that region.”

In an editorial published on Tuesday, the Washington Post argues that perhaps it is time for the world to reconsider allowing China to host the Winter Olympics in 2022.

Meanwhile, U.S. trade negotiators and lawmakers need to apply the pressure — and not be afraid that they might make China mad when they do.

As my colleague Matthew McMullan noted on the blog last month, before the United States normalized trade relations with China in 2000, a rule in the Trade Act of 1974 made Congress review the trade status it applied to China each year. Although that rule has long been shelved, it provided a way to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses. And it’s time to hold China accountable again.

One of the things that’s most frustrating about the current debate about U.S.-China trade is how much emphasis has been put on costs over the overall merits of finally forcing China to deal with its human rights abuses and unfair trade practices.

That’s not to say that we aren’t sympathetic to consumers and business owners — it’s tough out there, especially this time of year, and everybody is looking to save money when they can. And we certainly have our complaints about how the Trump administration has handled things with China throughout this process.

But it’s vital to keep in mind that there is a big cost to cheap Made in China goods.

Here at AAM, when we talk about the negatives of opening trade with China, we mostly focus on the impact it had on American factory workers — 3.4 million jobs lost since 2001, for example. Many of the companies who offshored production to China did so for lower labor costs.

Now we are starting to see why that labor cost is often so low.

More than 1 million people in China have been rounded up from their homes and forced into concentration camps, where authorities work to strip them of their culture and religious beliefs. Many of these people are now forced into factories, and the goods they make there often wind up in the west.

The United States needs to do more to stop these abuses. Ongoing trade negotiations seem like a good place to start.


Reposted from AAM