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Congress has passed a bill that requires companies to prove that goods imported from China’s Xinjiang region were not produced with forced labor. The US has accused China of genocide in its repression of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority there — a charge that China has repeatedly rejected. The bill had been criticized by major companies that do business in the area, including Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple. Its passage also overcame initial lack of support from the White House. It was approved by the House on December 14 with the vote of every member except one, and approved unanimously by the Senate on December 16. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, as the bill is formally known, now heads to the desk of President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

China has announced sanctions on four members of the United States government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom in retaliation for penalties imposed on Chinese officials over complaints of abuses in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region. The tit-for-tat sanctions on Tuesday added to spiraling tension over Xinjiang, where over a million minority Muslim Uyghurs are believed to have been forced into reeducation camps. The chairwoman and three members of the U.S. panel are barred from visiting mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, and any assets they have in the country will be frozen, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. Zhao identified those targeted as Chairwoman Nadine Maenza, Deputy Chairman Nury Turkel, and members Anurima Bhargava and James Carr. Zhao gave no indication whether they have assets in China.The United States on Monday named Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya as special coordinator for Tibet, drawing warnings from China to stay out of its internal affairs. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Zeya, who is responsible for democracy and human rights, would lead U.S. efforts to preserve the Chinese-ruled territory’s religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage in the face of human rights abuses by Beijing. Blinken said Zeya would seek to promote dialogue between China and Tibet’s spiritual leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, or democratically elected Tibetan leaders. “She will lead U.S. efforts to preserve the religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage of Tibetans who are facing human rights abuses and challenges to their livelihoods and environment,” Blinken said in a tweet.With the phase-one trade deal between the world’s two largest economies due to expire at year’s end, Chinese scholars say supply-side issues are an impediment to China’s ability to meet purchasing targets. Multiple sources in China also told the Post that the two countries have engaged in phase-one discussions at various levels and with more frequency than has been publicly disclosed. And before the Xi-Biden summit in November, they say, the China side vowed to “buy whatever the U.S. can ship over.” But for now, China continues to lag behind in its commitment to buy at least US $200 billion worth of additional American goods and services, relative to the 2017 level, including US $162.1 billion worth of physical goods.
The northern Chinese city of Xi’an ordered all 13 million residents to stay home in a strict lockdown Wednesday, while dramatically tightening travel controls to fight a growing Covid-19 outbreak. With Beijing preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in February, China is on high alert as it fights local outbreaks in several cities. Xi’an reported 52 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 143 since December 9. From midnight on Thursday, all households may only “send one household member outside once every two days to purchase necessities,” with all others ordered to remain indoors except for emergencies, the city government said in a statement on its official Weibo social media account.A Covid-19 vaccine booster shot by China’s Sinopharm showed significantly weaker neutralising activity against the Omicron variant than for an older coronavirus strain from Wuhan, Chinese researchers found. Researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Institute of Respiratory Diseases said that they had assessed samples from 292 health care workers given a third shot eight to nine months after their second, in a study published on Saturday on preprint server medRxiv. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that the neutralising antibody activity of a Sinopharm BBIBP-CorV booster against Omicron showed a 20.1-fold reduction. As supporting evidence, the study found that about eight to nine months after a second dose, the neutralizing activity of the Sinopharm jab “declined rapidly and could hardly be detected,” adding to the importance of third booster doses – which have been shown to be capable of enhancing antibody response.The explosive spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus is quickly presenting one of the most complicated possible Covid-19 scenarios for the 2022 Beijing Games. Thousands of athletes from dozens of countries are on course to head to the place where the pandemic began almost exactly two years ago but which has yet to experience this wave. Hundreds of those athletes could contract the variant by the Feb. 4 opening ceremony, in spite of being vaccinated, previously infected or both. Few will likely be seriously ill. But their positive test results stand to upend training and selection for the Games—and could prevent some of them leaving at all for a Games built around a “Covid zero” approach to snuffing out all traces of the virus. 
CCP Foreign Influence
A Harvard University chemistry professor was convicted in federal court on Tuesday of concealing his ties to China, securing a victory for the Justice Department’s controversial and faltering initiative to address accusations of “Chinese economic espionage” in the United States. A jury in U.S. District Court in Boston found the professor, Charles Lieber, guilty on two counts of lying to federal authorities, two counts of falsifying tax returns and two counts of failing to report foreign finances. Lieber, a former chair of Harvard’s chemistry department, had for three years worked as a “strategic scientist” at the Wuhan University of Technology in China as part of Beijing’s Thousand Talents recruitment program. As part of his contract from 2012 to 2015, according to an affidavit, the university in Wuhan paid Lieber a salary of as much as $50,000 per month, $150,000 in annual living expenses and grants of more than $1.5 million to create a research lab at the Chinese university.Amazon quietly removed criticism of President Xi’s books by scrubbing bad reviews, ratings and comments from its Chinese site, it has emerged. The U.S. retail giant agreed to Beijing’s demand to have anything below a five-star review of Xi Jinping’s book The Governance of China removed from about two years ago, Reuters reported, citing two unidentified sources. The move is the latest example of western tech companies willing to work with Chinese censors for access to the country’s massive consumer market. A search of Xi Jinping returned 82 results on, and the vast majority of books either written by or written about the president had the ratings and comments disabled. Books by the party’s propaganda department on Xi’s thoughts and his important speeches were found to have a single five-star rating.China’s government has unleashed a global online campaign to burnish its image and undercut accusations of human rights abuses. Much of the effort takes place in the shadows, behind the guise of bot networks that generate automatic posts and hard-to-trace online personas. Now, a new set of documents reviewed by The New York Times reveals in stark detail how Chinese officials tap private businesses to generate content on demand, draw followers, track critics and provide other services for information campaigns. That operation increasingly plays out on international platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which the Chinese government blocks at home. The documents, which were part of a request for bids from contractors, offer a rare glimpse into how China’s vast bureaucracy works to spread propaganda and to sculpt opinion on global social media. They were taken offline after The Times contacted the Chinese government about them.
Hong Kong
Pro-Beijing candidates claimed victory in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) election under the new “patriots only” system. This was the first LegCo since Beijing lawmakers passed a sweeping law to ensure only “patriotic” figures can run for positions of power — which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called a “denial of democracy.” Voter turnout was the lowest on record — 30.2%. All candidates running to be members of the electoral college were vetted by China’s government. Kenneth Chan, a political scientist at Hong Kong’s Baptist University, told AFP the turnout was “hugely embarrassing” for the government. In a joint statement, Blinken and his counterparts from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, expressed their “grave concern” over the election outcome. The Chinese emblem has replaced Hong Kong’s bauhinia insignia in the main chamber of the city’s legislature, according to images shared by CitizenNews. The move is in line with the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, which states that it must be displayed for the swearing-in of officials. The legislature was unable to comment when asked by HKFP whether the change was permanent, but NowTV reported that the change was only for the oath-taking ceremony. However the chamber is to undergo an expansion to accommodate 20 extra lawmakers destined to sit in the newly-expanded legislature. Although more lawmakers will be sworn in, democratic representation was reduced by around half following the Beijing-led overhaul of the system in May.The United States on Monday named five already-sanctioned Chinese officials it said had contributed to undermining Hong Kong’s democracy and warned that foreign financial institutions that conduct business with them would be subject to sanctions. A six-monthly State Department report to Congress named the five as Chen Dong, He Jing, Lu Xinning, Tan Tienui, and Yin Zonghua, all deputy directors at China’s Hong Kong liaison office. Naming the five bought to 39 the number of officials so designated under the terms of the U.S. Hong Kong Autonomy Act since October last year. “Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with the individuals listed in today’s report are subject to sanctions,” the State Department said, as it released an updated report to Congress required under the act.
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen scored a political victory over the weekend as four referendums backed by the opposition against crucial policies of her government including allowing U.S. pork imports failed to pass. The result averts the risk of undermining Tsai’s push for Taiwan’s inclusion in a regional trade pact, closer trade relations with Washington and efforts to switch more power generation from coal to natural gas. Taipei is pushing for talks with the US on a potential bilateral trade deal, and recently applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Both steps are crucial for Taiwan to prevent China’s efforts at isolating the country from hurting its trade-reliant economy.Diplomats from European Union member states and other countries helped their Lithuanian colleagues evacuate their embassy and leave China last week in an unexpected departure after Beijing demanded the return of their passes. Lithuania pulled out its remaining four diplomats, one technical embassy employee, their families and a cat on short notice on Dec. 15, a day after the deadline given by the Chinese Foreign Ministry demanding the return of the envoys’ diplomatic identification cards, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said. The embassy staff was notified a week earlier about the looming expiration of their IDs along with a demand from China that the embassy’s name be changed to the Office of the Charge d‘Affaires, an effective downgrade of its diplomatic status. Tensions between China and Lithuania have soured since Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last month.China is pressuring German car parts giant Continental to stop using components made in Lithuania, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters, amid a dispute between Beijing and the Baltic state over the status of Taiwan. The targeting of Continental is an example of how the China-Lithuania diplomatic spat is spilling over into business in an era of global supply chains and affecting Germany’s car industry, a lucrative pillar of Europe’s biggest economy. The Chinese government, which views self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania last month after the opening of a representative office by Taiwan in Vilnius. Lithuania’s ruling coalition had also agreed last year to support what it described as “those fighting for freedom” on the island.
China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority could come before the courts in Argentina at about the same time that the Winter Olympics open on Feb. 4 in Beijing. Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, is preparing a “universal jurisdiction criminal complaint” to submit to the criminal courts of Argentina in February. “We think what we are doing in Argentina is the natural next step for moving towards justice,” Polak told the Associated Press in an interview. Last week, an unofficial body set up in Britain to assess evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people concluded that the Chinese government committed genocide and crimes against humanity.A Newsweek review of financial filings in Congress has found that lawmakers who are driving legislation to protect Uyghurs in China are also invested—either directly in the form of stocks, or indirectly via mutual funds—in major companies tied to the oppression in Xinjiang. Prominent names on Capitol Hill from both the Republican and Democratic parties have large sums of money invested in companies accused of benefiting from or facilitating China’s treatment of Uyghurs. So have some of their spouses. Human rights and Uyghur activists who accuse the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of committing genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are now calling on these politicians to lead by example and review their own financial portfolios for any potential exposure.Chinese solar companies are gradually shifting the country’s solar supply chain away from Xinjiang as the U.S. increases its scrutiny of the region. Daqo New Energy Corp., which operates a massive polysilicon factory in the western China region, announced Monday it would build a second, larger facility in Inner Mongolia. That’s part of a broader movement. Just 15% of announced or under construction polysilicon projects as of November are in Xinjiang, according to BloombergNEF, compared to 40% of global capacity being there at the end of 2020. At the same time an open letter from Intel to its suppliers asking them not to use goods or labour from Xinjiang has created a public relations crisis for the U.S. chip maker in China. In an open letter to suppliers published on its website, Intel said it has been “required to ensure that its supply chain does not use any labour or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.”

The China Debrief is a resource of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.