Commentary: "Forced labor" smear killing jobs, ruining lives of Xinjiang ethnic minorities

(Xinhua) 16:14, May 29, 2024

BEIJING, May 29 (Xinhua) -- A U.S. law claiming to have been coined for "safeguarding" justice and rights for the Uygur people has actually done great injustice to and infringed on the basic rights of ethnic minorities in China's Xinjiang, as it is forcing upon Chinese and foreign businesses a de-facto "hiring discrimination" against those groups.

Causing major economic repercussions, the so-called "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act" is sabotaging the smooth development of the northwestern Chinese autonomous region at the cost of innocent local people, many of whom have just shaken off absolute poverty after nearly a decade of painstaking efforts.

By unjustly targeting a specific region and certain ethnic groups, the U.S. law and its following enforcement actions have virtually stigmatized Uygur and other ethnic minority workers in the job market within and even outside Xinjiang, making it increasingly hard for them to find a job or work as a normal member of society.

Since the act absurdly demands all businesses with any possible links to Xinjiang either provide credible evidence that their goods are not made with forced labor or face a thorough imports ban, many business owners are caught in a dilemma -- either bearing excessive costs and still facing high risks of being punished, or sacrificing their employees and living with a guilty conscience.

In a recent interview, a Chinese manufacturer-exporter who had to lay off all his Xinjiang employees because of the act, quoted a stark ultimatum from his American clients: "As long as you have one single worker from Xinjiang, we cannot work with you."

The U.S. legislation targets industries in which China holds significant global competitive advantages such as textiles, electronics and solar panel production. Since 2022, 65 Chinese companies have been added to the expanding entity list as a result of the U.S. act, whose enactment relies on questionable critiques and reports orchestrated by fervent China detractors overseas.

Many of the impacted companies reported financial losses and reductions in workforce, with a significant portion of those affected being employees from Xinjiang and the Uygur community.

Take for instance Shache County in southern Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities constitute over 95 percent of the population. It used to have nearly 100 textile enterprises, but today only fewer than one-fifth remain operational.

In another typical case, one factory in Hotan, southern Xinjiang ceased providing lodging for its workers -- a common employee benefit in labor-intensive industries in China -- fearing such practice might be labeled as "forced labor" or even "imprisonment" by the U.S. side. As a result these poor workers now have to get up very early and spend hours commuting every day.

Even far away from Xinjiang, like in the central Chinese province of Hubei, about 1,000 natives of Xinjiang had to quit their jobs from the local non-woven fabric sector and move back home, though none of them had worked against their will.

To those uncompassionate Washington politicians only obsessed with "forced labor" stories, no Uygur in Xinjiang can be working of their own free will, nor will they and their families have the desire or need to pursue a decent life through work.

As part of the U.S. act's enforcement efforts, a whopping 3.32 billion U.S. dollars worth of shipments had been inspected by May and as much as 680 million U.S. dollars worth of goods were denied entry, figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection show. Such maneuvers have seriously disrupted the supply and value chains, affecting not only China but also other countries like Malaysia and Vietnam.

This cruel reality prompts all people with senses and empathy to ask: did the United States have a noble intention and just made a careless mistake to hurt so many innocent people, or was it a well-calculated, cold-hearted plan to use these people as a leverage to exert maximum pressure on China and advance Washington's own interests?

Having lagged behind in the country's rapid economic growth for quite a long time, Xinjiang used to be pestered by the so-called "Three Evil Forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, with ruthless terror attacks reported across the region from time to time. Believing that poverty and a sense of estrangement among the most vulnerable groups are some of the root causes of extremism and terrorism, China launched a massive campaign to help Xinjiang catch up and eradicate absolute poverty.

The process of accomplishing that daunting task also coincided with the gradual reduction and the ultimate zeroing-out of terrorist incidents. By far Xinjiang has enjoyed at least seven years of complete peace and harmony throughout the region.

But now, the ever-intensifying "forced labor" smear and attack campaign from Washington threatens to thrust many in Xinjiang back into poverty and destitution, which in the long run could trigger new instability in the region and give the "Three Evil Forces" a chance to come back.

Still, it will be too early for those evil schemers weaving such a web of lies against Xinjiang to start their celebration. Though inevitably experiencing a hard time and suffering some losses, Xinjiang, as part of a robust and highly resilient modern China, will neither yield to any external coercion nor beg for anyone's mercy.

In fact, notwithstanding the impact of epidemic and pressure from the United States, Xinjiang has managed to maintain steady GDP growth in the last few years, thanks to all-out support from the central government and 1.4 billion Chinese people, as well as the region's quick and effective adaptation and adjustment.

As China is steadfastly pursuing its goal of becoming a modern country that is "prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful" by mid 21st century, Xinjiang will by no means be left behind. With its rich resources, established industrial strengths and -- most importantly -- diligent people of all ethnic groups, the region has every reason to move on with confidence and expect an even brighter future.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Zhong Wenxing)


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