Biden Signs Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, Delivers Another Blow to China

President Joe Biden signed a pair of bills into law on Thursday, one advancing research for a cure for the neurological disorder known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease and another bill aiming to penalize China for the alleged mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims in the nation's Xinjiang region.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act bans imports from Xinjiang unless businesses prove the items they are sending were not produced with forced labor.

Government agencies will also be required to elevate their systems for monitoring the use of forced labor in China, and the bill establishes a presumption that products created in Xinjiang are produced using forced labor.

The House and Senate each passed the bill with significant bipartisan support before it was sent to Biden.

China continues to deny allegations from the U.S. government, human rights groups and journalists that ethnic minorities, especially Uyghur Muslims, are being subjected to forced labor in factories, along with forced sterilization and placement in detention camps.

In its denials, China says it has taken steps it believes are necessary to combat terrorist threats and a separatist movement in the region.

The China law was signed in private, while a public ceremony was held for the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act. The ALS law will provide $100 million per year from 2022 to 2026 for research of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disorder for which there is no discovered cure.

Joe Biden, China, Uyghur Bill, ALS Bill
On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill aimed at penalizing China over its alleged mistreatment of ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang. On the same day, Biden also signed the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act into law during a ceremony, pictured above, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, D.C. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The China measure had to overcome some initial hesitation from the White House, as well as corporate opposition, to win final passage last week in the Senate, following earlier House passage.

"Today, I signed the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act," Biden posted on Twitter, along with a photo of him signing the legislative text at his desk in the Oval Office. "The United States will continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure supply chains are free from the use of forced labor—including from Xinjiang and other parts of China."

The new law is the latest in a series of attempts by the U.S to get tough with China over its alleged systemic and widespread abuse of ethnic and religious minorities in its western region, especially regarding Xinjiang's predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.

Businesses will have to prove that forced labor, including by workers transferred from Xinjiang, was not used in manufacturing products before they will be allowed into the U.S.

It wasn't until shortly before the Senate voted last week that the White House said Biden supported the measure. The announcement followed months in which the White House declined, despite repeated questioning, to take a public stand on an earlier version of the measure.

The U.S. cites raw cotton, gloves, tomato products, silicon and viscose, fishing gear and components for solar energy as among goods alleged to have been produced using forced labor in Xinjiang, a resource-rich mining region that is important for agricultural production. The region is also home a booming industrial sector.

Detainees also are moved outside Xinjiang and put to work in factories, including in the apparel and textiles, electronics, solar energy and automotive sectors, the U.S. says.

Some big corporations lobbied against the measure. Apple, like Nike and other companies with production done in China, said it had found no sign of forced labor from Xinjiang in its manufacturing or supply chain.

Uyghur rights advocates and others had also feared private opposition from within the Biden administration as the U.S. sought cooperation from the Chinese on climate change and other issues.

In a statement last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted export controls and import restrictions, sanctions, diplomatic initiatives and other measures the administration had already taken targeting forced labor in Xinjiang.

The White House also recently announced that it would stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing China's "egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang." U.S. athletes will be allowed to compete under a diplomatic boycott, but the president and other U.S. dignitaries will not travel to the games, which open in February.

The ALS Act will also create grant programs and provide early access to promising treatments for patients who aren't accepted into clinical trials.

"For too long, there have been no survivors of ALS, but this bill can get us closer to changing that," Biden said.

ALS is colloquially referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease for the New York Yankees baseball player who retired in 1939 because of the disease. Gehrig died in 1941.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Joe Biden, China, Uyghur Bill, ALS Bill
President Joe Biden signed two bills into law on Thursday. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act bans imports from China's Xinjiang region unless businesses prove the items were not produced with forced labor. Above, Biden signs the second of the two bills, the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act, in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images