In China, Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment, Economic warfare, Radhika Desai, USA, Uyghurs, Xinjiang

A cotton harvesting machine works in a field in Manas county, Hui autonomous prefecture of Changji, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Oct 17, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

By Radhika Desai,

Published on NCW, July 13, 2022:

The Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act came into effect on 21 June 2022. Though its full effects are not entirely clear, it may well be the final nail in President Biden’s foreign policy of putting ‘smart’ pressure on ‘autocracies’ by rallying ‘democracies’. While it was always hypocritical and futile, like sanctions on Russia, it seems set to boomerang, and given the far greater size of China’s economy, boomerang big time.
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The following article by Radhika Desai is a slightly expanded version of a piece written for CGTN and published on July 13, 2022.

The Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act came into effect on 21 June 2022. Though its full effects are not entirely clear, it may well be the final nail in President Biden’s foreign policy of putting ‘smart’ pressure on ‘autocracies’ by rallying ‘democracies’. While it was always hypocritical and futile, like sanctions on Russia, it seems set to boomerang, and given the far greater size of China’s economy, boomerang big time.

The Act, the culmination of the more than four-year-long campaign baselessly alleging violation of human rights, forced labour and even genocide in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), gives US Customs and Border Protection authorities the right to seize products suspected of containing anything produced in Xinjiang on the “rebuttable presumption” that all such goods are produced with forced labour. Not only does this put the onus of proof that they are not on importers, it askes them to prove the absence of something, much harder than proving the presence of something.

Even more fundamentally, the UFLPA is founded on lies. The most fundamental lie is that there is forced labour in Xinjiang. Since there is no evidence of this, the real purpose of the Act is simply to wage a squalid trade war against China, to seek to stall its rise, under the exalted banners of human rights and democracy.

It is, of course, also a lie that the US has any right to wage wars or trade wars in the name of human rights and democracy, as it so often does, while maintaining a studied silence on the US legacy of slavery. To this day, African Americans are subject to disproportionate poverty, unemployment and general economic, social, political and cultural marginalisation. To this day, they are disproportionately incarcerated and thus subject to the penal labour that is normal practice in US prisons. The US is also silent about documented instances of forced labour in the US itself, not to mention labour and immigration laws that are designed to enable the hyper-exploitation of vulnerable groups. And we are not even getting into the sorry state of its so-called democracy, better understood as plutocracy.

Moreover, the very lies upon which the UFLPA rests will make the so-called ‘rebuttable presumption’ entirely unrebuttable: given that membership in the US political establishment is conditional on believing the lies. How can any importer prove to any member of it that any products they wish to import from Xinjiang is not made with forced labour?

Finally, the onus of proving the non-existence of something raises the bar so high that only the human rights industry – that gaggle of NGOs, lawyers and officials who profit from the US’s hypocrisy – is cheering. Businesses are already worried and frustrated, with most expecting chaos in the implementation of this law.

All this makes the UFLPA draconian and many fear its destructive effects on China’s economy. However, their fears are likely to prove entirely misplaced. Understanding why requires an awareness of how much has changed since the Act was signed into law by President Biden only last December: the US’s economic woes have worsened, its foreign policy is unravelling, its sanctions against Russia are backfiring and President Biden’s popularity is nosediving.

As an exemplar of the Biden administration’s ‘smart foreign policy, imposing ‘targeting sanctions’ against ‘autocratic’ governments in cooperation with ‘democratic’ allies, it was signed into law in a different era: before the proxy war against Russia showed this foreign policy not only to be futile but counterproductive. If this was bad enough, now Biden is taking on an economy 10 times the size of Russia and, given the sheer range of products that originate in Xinjiang and blanket nature of the ‘rebuttable presumption’, he is stretching the meaning of ‘targeted’ to breaking point. The boomerang will be correspondingly bigger.

Not only is China unlikely to buckle, not only is the overwhelming majority of the world’s countries happy to trade with China and take up any slack in demand caused closure of access to US markets, but US business itself is also unlikely to want to go along with it. Moreover, the US needs its allies to comply with it too, but will they? They have already demonstrated their reluctance to go along with US extraterritorial sanctions, as in the case of sanctions on Iran. And now, allied governments and their citizens have also learned bitter lessons by placing quite mild sanctions on Russia, sanctions that still have them remaining reliant on Russian energy. Will they really be ready to go along with sanctions on China?

The US economy is already groaning under the rising burden of inflation and the UFLPA can only increase it further. President Biden’s popularity ratings are already lower than any president since Eisenhower and more inflation can only sink them lower in a mid-term election year.

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