Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) lambasted the Chinese authorities for restricting the religious practices of the largely-Muslim Uyghur population, at a Wednesday hearing.
“When a regime deprives a people of their right to practice their faith freely, they are depriving those people of their full humanity,” Rubio said in a prepared statement read by Tony Perkins, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), at the commission’s hearing Wednesday on forced labor in Xinjiang, China.
The hearing on “A Religious Minority Enslaved: Addressing the Complicity of U.S. Companies in Uyghur Forced Labor,” focused on China’s treatment of the largely-Muslim population of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in province of Xinjiang.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Rubio said, is on a campaign to divorce the Uyghurs “from the traditions that sustained their ancestors and defined who they are as a people.”
According to numerous reports, regional authorities have set up a series of more than 1,300 camps in Xinjiang, used to intern Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region.
The Chinese government maintains that these camps are used for educational and terrorism-prevention purposes, but survivors of the camps have testified to having been subjected to human rights abuses including rape and torture.
According to USCIRF, residents of Xinjiang have been sent to the camps for maintaining religious and cultural practices such as wearing long beards or refusing alcohol. Predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities accounted for more than 60% of the region’s population, the U.S. State Department claimed in its 2018 report.
Yet in recent years, Muslims have been prevented from practicing their religion, and nearly half a million Muslim children have been taken from their families and placed in boarding schools, USCIRF says.
The United States has determined that China’s abuses of Uyghurs and other minorities amount to genocide.
Rubio is the co-sponsor of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill which would prohibit certain imports from Xinjiang and would impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses in the region. He said on Wednesday that “hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, other ethnic minorities, labor in Xinjiang and are forced to pick cotton through the (Chinese Communist Party’s) coercive labor training and transfer program.”
Xinjiang produces a fifth of the world’s cotton, as well as “tomatoes, hair products, apparel, [and] consumer electronics,” he said.
“We know that polysilicon from Xinjiang is also tainted by forced labor,” the senator added.
Rubio explained that if his bill were to become law, “the onus will be on companies to provide evidence that their goods coming from Xinjiang—or other government labor schemes for Uyghurs—were not made with forced labor.”
“Let me be totally clear—there is no ability for companies to conduct business as usual in Xinjiang, or where Chinese government programs have transported Uyghurs outside the region,” said Rubio.
On Tuesday, Rubio appeared on Perkins’ radio show, “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” to discuss both his legislation and China’s connection to American businesses and industry.
He noted that some American corporations have been “aggressively lobbying to keep [the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act] from happening.”
“And you wonder why. They all claim they don’t use forced labor, and yet you wonder whether at least some of their supply chain is linked to it as a result of it,” Rubio said. “I suspect the answer is probably yes, which is why they don’t want the liability that comes with it.”
“The price of doing business in China, the price of having access to the market is to come back to Washington and lobby policymakers in favor of their preferred policies,” he said.
He added that China has influenced the U.S. entertainment market as well.
“But it’s also our movies. I mean our movies, our entertainment is now being censored so that - because the, to you know, the content so that it can play in Chinese theaters because it’s such a huge market,” said Rubio.
The recent live-action remake of “Mulan” was filmed partly in Xinjiang. In the credits of the movie, Disney thanked regional authorities and a local security bureau for their cooperation in filming.