By Samantha Kamman, Christian Post Reporter
December 14, 2023
Ethnic Uyghur members of the Communist Party of China carry a flag as they take part in an organized tour on June 30, 2017, in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang
province, China. | Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — A globally respected human rights advocate warned Wednesday that a trade policy loophole could make the United States complicit in the Chinese government's forced labor and genocide of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in western China.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a House Ways and Means Committee member, hosted a roundtable discussion regarding the exploitation of a loophole in the "de minimis" threshold, which allows imports of packages that value $800 or less to come into the U.S. through a simplified inspection process and without having to pay any duties, taxes or fees.
The federal government has raised the import limit since 1938. In the 1990s, imports valued under $200 could come into the country without rigorous inspection. In 2016, the amount was raised to $800, according to a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom release provided to The Christian Post before the roundtable.
"None of us had an idea of how this would explode in terms of the ramifications, how it has been used," Blumenauer said, citing the Chinese Communist Party as a threat.
USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel, a longtime Uyghur rights advocate born in a re-education camp in China in 1970, said China exploits Uyghurs through forced labor and called on Congress to close the loophole that allows Chinese businesses to profit from selling forced labor goods to U.S. consumers.
"It is imperative to take these enforcement gaps off the table," Turkel said. "I don't think it's too strong to say that de minimis has become an open door for U.S. complicity in China's immoral genocide and forced labor of Uyghurs."
Multiple Uyghurs have testified about the oppression they faced from the Chinese Communist Party, which views them as inferior to the dominant Han Chinese. Millions of Uyghurs have been subjected to concentration camps, forced labor and torture unless they pledged their loyalty to the CCP. Many women have also testified about how they had to endure systematic rape and sexual abuse at re-education camps.
In an interview with CP, Turkel said at least 55,000 suppliers are operating in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Western China that have engaged in forced labor practices. He believes better data is needed to determine what kind of suppliers these are and what type of products they deal with.
"We have a moral obligation to tell American people that they've been, either willingly or unwillingly — that includes investors — underwriting this genocide," Turkel said.
Turkel, a foreign policy senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who also serves as chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, previously supported a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to protest China's human rights record. But the advocate believes more can be done.
"There should have been more broader, full boycott, more pressure to postpone or relocate. If relocating doesn't work, [it] would have been an ideal solution to the problem," he said. "Number one, there is a historic reason."
"We don't want, as a civilization, to embolden a dictatorial regime like the one in Beijing to witness us repeat history. The international community apparently has not learned a lesson from the 1936 Nazi Olympics allowing this Olympics in 2022 — the genocide Olympics — to take place," he added.
In June, Blumenauer and Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., introduced a bill titled the Import Security and Fairness Act, noting that Chinese companies ship over 2 million packages a day into the U.S. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
The Democratic congressman says that, in addition to placing American businesses at a disadvantage under the de minimis limit, it is hard to determine if the products coming in result from forced labor.
The Import Security and Fairness Act seeks to address this issue by prohibiting goods from non-market economies that are on the priority watch list, such as China. In addition, the legislation would make changes that would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collect more information on de minimis shipments.
Also in June, Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced the De Minimis Reciprocity Act of 2023 to close the loophole.