China Accuses U.S. of 'Cooking Up Lies' About Uyghur Forced Labor Camps

The Chinese government says it opposes American legislation to outlaw goods made with Uyghur forced labor after a bill to that effect passed overwhelmingly in the House and was sent to the Senate this week.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Wednesday that Beijing considers the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act an attempt by Congress to interfere in China's internal affairs "in the name of human rights." China will retaliate, he said.

The law will require companies to prove that forced labor was not involved in the manufacturing of products imported from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, where researchers and rights groups say more than a million Uyghurs have been interned in camps and subjected to "labor transfer," a policy in which the mostly Muslim local population is assigned compulsory work by the government and sometimes shipped en masse to other provinces.

The White House said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden welcomes the bill and will sign it into law.

Zhao told reporters that politicians in the United States were "cooking up lies" in order to "obstruct China's development through political manipulation and economic bullying."

"Their vile scheme will never succeed," he said, "and will only further damage the credibility and image of the U.S. government and Congress in China."

China To Retaliate Against U.S. Uyghur Law
A guard mans a watchtower above a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp, where Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, Xinjiang, China, on May 31, 2019. The Senate is scheduled to vote on a piece of legislation to ban all products made with Uyghur forced labor from entering the United States on December 16, 2021. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

The Chinese Foreign Ministry went on the offensive by repeating last year's call on the U.S. to first address human rights issues at home before criticizing China. Complaints included historical crimes against Native Americans, which Zhao said "constitutes real genocide."

His use of the phrase references the U.S., during the Trump administration, becoming the first major government to declare China's policies in Xinjiang genocide and crimes against humanity. The Biden administration reaffirmed the assessment, and a number of other countries have followed since.

Zhao called accusations of genocide and forced labor in Xinjiang "the biggest lie of the century." "China deeply regrets that this has become the politically correct thing to do in the U.S.," he said.

"We will make a resolute response if the U.S. insists on advancing the act," Zhao said without elaborating, hinting at potential countermeasures including sanctions against American lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent the bill to the Senate after the House passed by unanimous voice vote a version drafted by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) on Tuesday.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who authored the Senate bill, would've been hoping for a similar outcome on Wednesday, after Rubio and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) struck a deal to also schedule votes on key Biden nominees including Nicholas Burns, the president's pick for the post of ambassador to China.

However, the Uyghur bill eventually stalled over Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-OR) objection to the deal as he sought an extension to the child tax credit. Rubio is expected to lead another vote on the legislation on Thursday.