The Senate on Thursday approved a bill barring imports from China’s northwest Xinjiang region without proof they were not produced through forced labor, sending the measure to President Biden’s desk following a report his administration lobbied to water down the legislation.
The passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act marks the end of a long road for its supporters, who have pushed the measure as a way to hold China accountable for human rights violations targeting Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Beijing has been accused of carrying out a genocide against the Uyghurs, forcing them into concentration camps and having them perform slave labor. Harrowing reports from witnesses have described atrocities including torture, rape and forced abortion.
One version of the bill passed the House of Representatives in September 2020 and again earlier this month. The Senate approved its own version by a unanimous vote in July of this year. Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) announced they had reached agreement on a compromise measure.
The House passed the final bill by voice vote Tuesday, with the Senate following suit.
The bill was briefly held up in the Senate Wednesday night by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who called for an amendment to be added that would have extended the child tax credit for another year. Rubio blocked that move, but did agree to drop his objection to the confirmation of Nicholas Burns as US ambassador to China.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) had argued that confirming Burns as ambassador to Beijing and filling two other State Department roles would be necessary in implementing the law, according to Axios. Wyden, meanwhile, did not repeat his maneuver Thursday.
Biden is expected to sign the measure, even though the Washington Post, citing administration officials, reported earlier this month that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had told Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the original bill, that the White House wanted lawmakers to take “a more targeted and deliberative approach” to determining which items would be barred from the US.
“We agree with Congress that action can and must be taken to hold the People’s Republic of China accountable for genocide and human rights abuses and to address forced labor in Xinjiang,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a Tuesday statement welcoming the compromise legislation.
The bill’s passage comes as the Senate struggles to approve Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a sweeping, $1.75 trillion social spending package. The Senate will need all 50 Democratic votes to pass the bill, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has held off on backing it over inflation concerns.
On Wednesday, reports emerged that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is likely to push a vote on the bill until next year despite previous vows to pass it before Christmas.