WASHINGTON—The House voted unanimously Tuesday to ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about the use of forced labor, after a bipartisan agreement was reached with the Senate on the language of the legislation.
The bill—the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act—is expected to pass the Senate this week. Human-rights activists and some scholars say Chinese authorities have locked up a million or more Uyghurs and other minorities in internment camps as part of an ethnic-assimilation campaign.
“This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a human-rights issue and America must lead,” said
Rep. Jim McGovern
(D., Mass.) on the bill, which he co-sponsored.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are expected to support the bill and have been pressing for a vote.
Sen. Marco Rubio
(R., Fla.) stalled passage of the Senate version of the defense-policy bill earlier in December because he wanted to see the Uyghur legislation included. Democrats had objected on procedural grounds, and the defense bill moved forward without the provision.
“The United States is so reliant on China that we have turned a blind eye to the slave labor that makes our clothes, our solar panels, and much more,” Mr. Rubio said.
The bill says the U.S. will use all means possible to end the use of forced labor, including stopping the “importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region,” and through visa bans and financial sanctions. A Senate aide said the changes to bring the House and Senate versions together were minor.
“We are pleased now to be passing a House-Senate compromise bill that meets the urgency and gravity of this challenge,” said House Speaker
(D., Calif.), who added that human-rights concerns must trump business considerations.
The Uyghur Tribunal, a U.K.-based panel of lawyers, academics and activists, said last week it found that the Chinese government, through policies including what it described as forced birth control and sterilizations, intends to partially destroy the predominantly Muslim Uyghur community and its way of life, and that Chinese President
and other senior officials bore “primary responsibility for acts in Xinjiang.”
The Chinese government has rejected allegations of mistreatment of Uyghurs, saying it is fighting terrorism and separatism and that the camps have been used for “vocational education.”
A White House spokesman said President Biden would sign the legislation if it got to his desk. The Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics over the treatment of the Uyghurs.
Also on Tuesday, the House voted along party lines, 219-212, to advance a Democratic bill to create a special envoy to combat anti-Muslim views and record anti-Muslim sentiment and violence. The bill was led by
Rep. Ilhan Omar
(D., Minn.), one of three Muslims in Congress, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.). The bill isn’t expected to pass the Senate, where it would need bipartisan support.
The resolution calls for the State Department to set up an office to combat and record instances of anti-Muslim views headed by an envoy appointed by the president. That includes the documentation of “any instances of forced labor, re-education, or the presence of concentration camps, such as those targeting the Uyghurs.”
The House has grappled with addressing anti-Muslim remarks by Colorado Republican
Rep. Lauren Boebert
that cast Ms. Omar as a possible suicide bomber. The remarks drew criticism, and Ms. Boebert later apologized to Muslims and said she apologized to Ms. Omar over the phone, though Ms. Omar said it was insufficient. Democratic leadership has resisted calls from some progressives calling for Ms. Boebert to be punished for her comments.
“You called a colleague a suicide bomber…by saying that, you said it about all Muslims in our country, and you know it, you know exactly what you are doing and you have to be held accountable,”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib
(D., Mich.), another Muslim lawmaker, said at a press conference urging the leadership to take up legislation removing Ms. Boebert from her committee assignments.
Republican leadership told members to vote against the resolution because there were already offices at the State Department focused on human rights and religious freedom, which includes anti-Muslim views.
“This exercise is nothing other than a partisan messaging stunt,” said Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
—Eliza Collins contributed to this article.
Write to Natalie Andrews at [email protected]
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