U.S. sanctions on Xinjiang firms are an 'act of blatant bullying'

The United States has trampled on international laws, Chinese business interests and labor rights by arbitrarily sanctioning several enterprises in China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on "massive forced labor" grounds, a senior Xinjiang official said on Friday.

Askhar Tursun, deputy head of the region's commerce department, said they are indignant about, and strongly opposed to, such a move, which is a hideous manifestation of US "long arm jurisdiction" in Chinese territory.

The response came as the US Department of Commerce this year slapped sanctions on multiple Xinjiang businesses, citing "forced labor" concerns. Affected businesses include Aksu Huafu Color Spinning Co, Changji Esquel Textile Co and Hotan Taida Apparel Co.

Askhar said all the affected companies are legally registered and law-abiding entities that have also fulfilled their social responsibility and the obligations to guarantee workers' rights.

The U.S. sanctions are a breach of international trade norms and have caused disruptions to the global industrial and supply chains, he said.

"It is an act of blatant bullying. We support companies to defend their legitimate rights by means of law," he said at a news conference in Urumqi, the regional capital.

The regional government's spokesman, Zulyat Smay, said the employment of people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang is totally free, and is based on a two-way selection principle that allows workers to decide where to work for themselves.

He explained that the role of government is to create conditions for local workers to find satisfying jobs, obtain a stable income and enjoy the right to work.

Rahman Dawut, head of the region's human resources and social security department, said they respect workers' personal will and job preferences as they seek employment outside their hometowns, and help them reach their full potential and achieve stable employment.

To promote free employment, they have collected and released employment information through the internet, radio, television, village and community bulletin boards and other platforms, which enabled people to look for the jobs that suit them best, he said.

Rahman added that they have rolled out job training sessions for groups with employment difficulties, such as those laid off and people with disabilities. Tax breaks, easy loans and other incentives have also been used to encourage employers to create new jobs.

He also refuted claims that workers of smaller ethnic groups have been monitored at workplaces and that their customs and religious beliefs were suppressed.

"There are no such things, as someone hyped up, that the minority laborers were monitored and their customs or religious beliefs were suppressed anywhere in China," he said, adding that the Chinese government is committed to respecting citizens' right to work, safeguarding their legitimate labor rights and interests, and ensuring them decent jobs.

Figures offered by the regional government show the total number of people employed in Xinjiang rose from 11.35 million to 13.3 million from 2014 to 2019, an increase of 17.2 percent. The average annual increase in urban employment was more than 471,200 people, of which one-third was in less-affluent southern Xinjiang.

Zulyat said some people in the US and Western countries thoroughly ignore the efforts made by the region's local government to protect human rights and secure employment.

"The measures taken by the US and the West are a blatant interference in China's internal affairs, brutal destruction of Xinjiang's efforts in the promotion of ecosocial development and human rights, and wanton violation of the basic labor rights of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang under the banner of human rights," he said.

"However, their despicable attempts defy people's wishes and will never succeed," he added.