HONG, KONG/WASHINGTON – Chinese state media said Tuesday that the government will soon publish a list of “unreliable entities” that could lead to sanctions against U.S. companies, signaling trade talks between the two nations are increasingly under threat from disputes over human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The Communist Party-backed Global Times said in a tweet early Tuesday that the list was being sped up in response to a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio requiring sanctions against Chinese officials involved in alleged abuses of Uighur Muslims in the far west region of Xinjiang. Beijing has threatened to publish such a list of companies since May, after the U.S. placed restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co.
A response from China on the Xinjiang issue that hits U.S. companies would add another obstacle as the world’s two biggest economies struggle to finalize a phase-one deal to de-escalate their trade war. Investors are looking for any signs of progress ahead of a Dec. 15 deadline for President Donald Trump to add yet more tariffs on Chinese imports.
Stocks were mixed in Asia as investors contemplated the latest developments in China, as well as Trump’s move to threaten new levies on France and slap steel tariffs on both Brazil and Argentina.
On Monday, Trump said that trade talks with China had been complicated by legislation he signed last week threatening sanctions on officials who undermine Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy from Beijing. That legislation, along with a bill that bans the export of crowd control devices to Hong Kong police seeking to stem pro-democracy protests, led China to threaten sanctions on some human rights organizations and halt U.S. naval visits to the city.
Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin on Tuesday said the Xinjiang bill would spur more retaliation from China, writing on Twitter that U.S. officials may face visa restrictions and U.S. diplomatic passport holders could be banned from entering the province. China stands accused of incarcerating as many as a million Uighurs as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, actions it describes as voluntary re-education.
China hasn’t specified which companies would be affected by the blacklist, though courier firm FedEx Corp. has been under particular scrutiny this year. Any move from President Xi Jinping’s government must also weigh the costs on China’s economy, which is growing at its slowest pace in decades.
The U.S. House of Representatives was expected to vote Tuesday on the Xinjiang bill, which amends a version passed by unanimous consent in the Senate in September. It adds provisions that require the president to sanction Chinese government officials responsible for the repression of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group, and places restrictions on the export of devices that could be used to spy on, or restrict, the communications or movements of group members.
Lawmakers are working to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills to find a version that can pass swiftly through Congress before the end of the year. Rubio said that means any changes would need to be “pre-cleared” by the relevant committees so the bill could be passed by unanimous consent in the Senate.
Among other provisions, the bill requires the president to submit to Congress within 120 days a list of senior Chinese government officials who have committed human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China. That list would include Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and officials responsible for mass incarceration or reeducation efforts targeting Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.
The president would be required to impose visa and financial restrictions under the Global Magnitsky Act on the listed individuals. The State Department would also need to submit a report to Congress on human rights violations in the region.
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