China

White House says it isn't trying to weaken bill on China's Uyghurs

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks about the Biden administration's plan to fight COVID-19 this winter during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque     

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WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden's administration is not lobbying against a U.S. bill that would ban some Chinese imports over concern about forced labor among Uyghurs, which Republicans have accused Democrats of stalling, the White House said on Friday.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, is set to be considered by the House of Representatives as soon as next week, the bill's sponsor, congressman Jim McGovern, told reporters on Thursday. read more

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to a Washington Post report that suggested the Biden administration was telling lawmakers to slow the bill down while the White House pursues a more targeted approach, rather than a blanket ban on goods from the region, and support from other countries.

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The Post article said Biden administration sources had confirmed that in an October call between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, a co-sponsor of the bill, Sherman made it clear the administration preferred such an approach.

It said she told Merkley that getting buy-in of allies was critical and more effective than unilateral action.

Sherman was asked at a Brookings Institution event with the chief of the European Union's diplomatic service on Friday whether the administration supported a bill banning goods from Xinjiang on the assumption they were tainted by forced labor.

"Secretary Blinken, very early on, and I have as well, have called what has occurred in Xinjiang genocide," she replied, referring to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"We are quite concerned, and remain concerned, about the horrific human rights abuses that have taken place. And the particular amendment that you're discussing, the administration does not oppose this amendment," she said.

"We need to stand in solidarity with the Uyghurs, with religious minorities all over the world, to make sure that they can live in security and dignity."

Merkley's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Washington Post report and Sherman's remarks.

Republicans have accused Biden's Democrats of stalling the legislation because it would complicate the president's renewable energy agenda, which requires Chinese cooperation. The Democrats deny this.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, the sponsors have said it would create a "rebuttable presumption" that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslims, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world's materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, delaying the Senate's consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jarrett Renshaw and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Sonya Hepinstall and Cynthia Osterman

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