New Forced Labor Law Targets China, Also Impacts United States

goods from chinese province known for forced labor are banned

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A law barring products from Xinjiang entering the United States went into effect June 21. The western region of China is known for forced labor and internment camps for minorities. U.S.-Chinese relations improved in the 1970s.

 Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter
Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter met on January 29, 1979 to sign historic accords that ended U.S. opposition to the People’s Republic of China. Photo by Schumacher, Karl H. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act makes it illegal for any product to enter the United States if any part of the product was made in the Xinjiang province of China. Xinjiang authorities have rounded up and incarcerated a million Uyghur Muslims, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities and put them into detention centers, which they advertise as “job training centers.” In these centers, minorities are interrogated and re-educated, while forced to work in factories in inhumane conditions.

The U.S. government hopes to make forced labor in Xinjiang less profitable and, therefore, less desirable for the Chinese government to continue. Companies and consumers in the United States are also bracing for the impact of certain goods being banned.

Before his unfortunate passing, Dr. Richard Baum, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, hosted the video series The Fall and Rise of China. In it, he outlines how the United States and China’s relationship opened considerably in the 1970s.

From Nixon to Carter

In 1972, former President Richard Nixon made considerable strides with China’s Mao Zedong in opening up relations between the two nations. However, Nixon’s resignation in disgrace in 1974 left the proceedings stagnant, while his successor, Gerald Ford, had no interest in—or resources capable of—developing major partnerships with China. Mao’s death in 1976 likely slowed things down, also.

“When Deng Xiaoping first launched his program of ‘reform and opening up’ in 1978, he made a major strategic calculation, namely, that if the program were to succeed, it would need to elicit a positive response from the United States,” Dr. Baum said. “As the dominant global strategic and commercial power, America guarded the gates to international trade, technology, and finance.

“Only the Americans could provide the international access needed to help China achieve a smooth economic liftoff.”

Several Surprising Turn of Events

Former President Jimmy Carter ran partially on a campaign to revitalize U.S.-China relations, but made it clear that any relationship with the People’s Republic of China could not come at the expense of the independence or freedom of Taiwan, one of China’s “lost territories” that China hopes to reclaim. The Chinese balked at this, so Carter sent Secretary of State Richard Vance to seek a compromise.

Vance came back empty-handed and China doubled down on its position of reclaiming Taiwan.

“But if China’s new leaders were unwilling to make a deal with the Americans in the summer of 1977, by the latter half of 1978, a series of events had transpired that would make them change their minds,” Dr. Baum said. “What a difference a year made. Three things contributed to this Chinese about-face.”

The first was the success of Deng’s promotion of his reform program, raising the importance of American cooperation for Chinese modernization. Second, Russians had recently taken small but aggressive steps against China’s northern border, as well as Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Lithuania. This gave Deng and his people cause to appeal for American support against the Soviet Union.

Third, the United States felt the same way: Carter sent his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzenzisnki, on a trip to China to imply to Chinese leaders that the United States and China had a mutual interest in keeping the Soviet Union in check.

These three incidents led to the normalization of relations between the United States and China.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily