China has accused the world’s wealthiest countries of “political manipulation” following a joint statement by Group of 7 leaders urging it to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where experts believe up to 1.8 million Uyghurs are being detained as part of a broader campaign of repression against Turkic Muslim ethnic minorities.
“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang,” the G7, which is made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, said at the end of the three-day summit in Cornwall, England, on Sunday.
The G7 also pledged to eradicate forced labor, including the state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities, in the agricultural, solar and garment sectors, which are the “main supply chains of concern” in Xinjiang.
The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs estimates that 100,000 Uyghurs and other ethnic minority ex-detainees may be working under conditions of forced labor both within and outside Xinjiang. “Many more” rural poor workers may also be coerced into job placements without detention under the guise of “poverty alleviation,” though the scheme only serves as a further means of control and isolation, it said.
“Leaders agreed on the importance of upholding human rights and of international labor standards, and committed to protect individuals from forced labor,” the White House wrote in a statement on Sunday. “We welcome the commitment of our G7 partners to ensure all global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor. We look forward to identifying areas for strengthened cooperation and collective efforts to eradicate the use of all forms of forced labor in global supply chains, in accordance with international and national law.”
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last Thursday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged lawmakers to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and ensure that goods being tainted by modern slavery do not enter the U.S. market and “make all Americans unwitting accomplices.”
“The Chinese government calls this ‘poverty alleviation,’ that’s the term they’ve come up for it. But everybody else knows what it is. It’s slavery,” Rubio said. “While some companies are waking up…to the reality that they are unwittingly profiting from these crimes, many still have not [and] for far too long. Companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were…benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor. These companies, sadly, were making all of us complicit in these crimes.” (Nike said last March that said that it does not source yarns, textiles or products from Xinjiang.)
The United States has already banned all cotton and cotton products from Xinjiang and the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. If the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act becomes law, it would create a so-called “rebuttable presumption” that any goods made in the region are the product of forced labor and banned from crossing American borders unless clear and convincing evidence demonstrates otherwise.
On Monday, China’s embassy in the United Kingdom accused the G7 of “baseless accusations” that “harm China’s interests.”
“China’s internal affairs must not be interfered in, China’s reputation must not be slandered and China’s interests must not be violated,” a spokesperson said. “We will resolutely defend our national sovereignty, security and development interests, and resolutely fight back against all kinds of injustices and infringements imposed on China.”
Beijing has repeatedly and vociferously denied any allegations of forced labor, let alone of genocide, which some organizations and governments have taken to labeling its actions.
China’s Southwest University of Political Science and Law recently released a study concluding that cotton production in southern Xinjiang has achieved large-scale mechanization “beyond imagination” through construction, land transfer and national agricultural machinery subsidies. Cotton picking, it added, guaranteed strong wages and high levels of occupational safety, meaning that “Western accusations” about cotton picking in Xijinag are “seriously unfounded,” with no evidence of forced labor at any stage of the production process.
But Amnesty International says it has evidence of human-rights abuses that have turned Xinjiang into a “dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale.”
The human-rights group’s Crisis Response team released on Thursday dozens of new testimonies from former detainees detailing the “extreme measures” taken by Chinese authorities since 2017 to “essentially root out” the religious traditions, cultural practices and local languages of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities while claiming to fight “terrorism.”
“Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations that threaten to erase their religious and cultural identities,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in a statement. “It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus.”