The Trump administration on Monday said it will block U.S. imports of cotton, apparel and other products from five specific entities in western China's Xinjiang region, but has shelved proposed region-wide bans on all Xinjiang-produced cotton and tomato products.
Department of Homeland Security acting Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli said the "Withhold Release Orders" (WROs) are aimed at combating China's use of forced labor by detained Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
He said the administration was conducting more legal analysis of the region-wide import bans.
Customs and Border Protection officials told Reuters last week that they had prepared the broader bans on cotton, cotton textiles and tomatoes, among China's biggest commodity exports, along with the orders announced Monday.
Two people familiar with the Trump administration's internal deliberations said that concerns about the broad orders and their effect on supply chains were raised by key officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
China also had agreed to purchase increased quantities of U.S. cotton under the countries' Phase 1 trade deal, which could be put at risk by a U.S. ban on imports from China's dominant cotton-producing region.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said investigations into the broader import bans were still being pursued.
"Because of its unique nature, being, applying to a region as opposed to a company or a facility, we are giving that more legal analysis," Cuccinelli said. "We have not used a WRO like that in China before, and so we want to make sure that once we proceed that it will stick, so to speak."
The Withhold Release Orders allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labor involvement under long-standing U.S. laws to combat human trafficking, child labor and other human rights abuses.
DHS said Xinjiang entities whose products will be blocked from entering the United States include all products made with labor from the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center; hair products from the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park; apparel produced by Yili Zhouwan Garment Manufacturing and Baodung LYSZD Trade and Business Co.; cotton produced and processed by Xinjiang Junggar Cotton and Linen Co. Ltd; and computer parts made by Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co. Ltd.
President Donald Trump's administration is ratcheting up pressure on China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports that about 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.
China denies mistreatment of the Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centers needed to fight extremism.
Chinese Property Tycoon Ren Zhiqiang Sentenced to 18-Year in Corruption Case
A court in Beijing Tuesday gave Chinese property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who once referred to China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, as a “clown,” an 18-year prison sentence and a fine of $620,000 after finding him guilty of corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power as an executive of a state-owned enterprise.
Some Chinese dissidents called the verdict “shameless” and a “political persecution” while observers, with whom VOA spoke, said the ruling aims to silence dissidents and members in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who are critical of Xi – a sign that also underscores the lack of confidence in his rule.
“This is an example to show that there’s an undercurrent in the party opposing Xi Jinping. And Xi Jinping is trying to do anything [he can] to suppress, to prevent those, who oppose him, from coming together,” Yang Jianli, a Chinese dissident who now lives in the U.S. and is president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, told VOA before the ruling.
Charges against Ren
According to a statement released by Beijing’s No.2 Intermediate People’s Court, Ren was found to be corrupt and to have received an illicit gain of nearly $7.4 million, taken $184,500 in bribes and embezzled $8.9 million in public funds between 2003 and 2017, when he served as the chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group.
The court also found Ren abused his executive power, causing nearly $17 million in losses for those state-owned companies in exchange for his personal gain of almost $3 million.
The statement added that Ren pleaded guilty, returned his illicit gains and agreed not to appeal upon hearing his verdict.
Known as a member of the powerful so-called Red Second Generation, Ren, 69, is the son of a former deputy commerce minister. He became known in recent years for speaking up about media censorship and other sensitive topics in China.
Outspoken critic of Xi
Ren was detained under criminal investigation in March, shortly after his private comments that criticized China’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak went viral online.
In a scathing essay, Ren didn’t specify a name but appeared to call Xi “a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor.”
The court’s verdict on Ren sparked an outcry among dissidents and observers in China and abroad.
Li Datong, founding editor of the China Youth Daily’s Freezing Point weekly, called it a “shameless” persecution.
When Ren stepped down from his chairmanship at Huayuan in 2011, “the government’s audit body had closely scrutinized the company’s financial accounts [under Ren’s leadership], which it found flawless…This [verdict] is a slap on the government’s own face,” Li told VOA over the phone.
Li said that he believes Ren pleaded guilty because his son was held hostage by authorities, adding those four charges against Ren were false.
He called Ren an outspoken critic who speaks the mind of the Chinese people.
Ren “is someone who dares to talk about what’s on people’s mind. He poses no threat to anyone and no organizations would be toppled because of [free] speech. He did nothing but speaking the mind of the people, which somehow isn’t tolerated by the authorities,” he added.
Wang Dan, former Tiananmen Square protest student leader, tweeted that the sentence is so heavy that Ren is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“It shows that the Communist Party would only hit its own comrades harder,” Wang wrote, criticizing Xi as “someone who is too insecure to tolerate any criticism. The Communist party’s future will be bathed in blood.”
Rising public grievance?
Tseng Chien-yuan, chairman of Taipei-based New School for Democracy, argued that it remains to be seen if the verdict would backfire and trigger public grievance, since Ren has garnered a high level of support among the public and even a certain degree of sympathy among like-minded members in the party.
“The fact that the Communist Party gave him such a heavy sentence further reflects a lack of confidence in the regime’s stability. Hence, it is using such a heavy sentence to send a warning or intimidate dissidents,” Tseng told VOA over the phone.
Tseng noted that Ren’s case would certainly create a chilling effect among Chinese dissidents, but it may also trigger “political panic” among those as outspoken as Ren, who will likely put their own interests before those of the party.
“That will then set the beginning of the collapsing confidence in the Chinese regime,” he added.
Leo Lan, research & advocacy consultant of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), agreed that Ren’s verdict will have an immediate impact on the wealthy, along with outspoken businesspeople and party members.
And “it looks like Xi Jinping wants to maintain its heavy-handed approach to crack down on dissenting views,” Lan told VOA in a written reply, adding, “We now need to see how the party elites react. Some party elites might still fight back.”
New York Police Officer Charged With Spying for China
U.S. authorities have charged a Tibetan man serving as a New York police officer with espionage, accusing him of gathering information about the city's Tibetan community for the Chinese government.
The officer, who worked at a station in the Queens section of the city, was directed by members of the Chinese consulate in New York, according to the indictment released Monday.
Through his contacts with the Tibetan community, the 33-year-old man gathered information between 2018 and 2020 on the community's activities, as well as identified potential information sources.
According to the indictment, the man, who is also an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, allowed members of the Chinese consulate to attend events organized by the New York Police Department.
The Chinese authorities allegedly paid him tens of thousands of dollars for his service.
The officer has been charged with four counts, including enlisting in the service of a foreign country on U.S. soil, misrepresentation and obstructing the operation of a public service.
He was brought before a judge Monday and taken into custody, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn federal prosecutor told AFP.
According to the NYPD, he is suspended without pay.
Born in China, the man was granted political asylum in the U.S., claiming he was tortured by Chinese authorities because of his Tibetan ethnicity.
The investigation revealed, however, that both of his parents were members of the Chinese Communist Party.
"If confirmed by the courts," the espionage operation "shows that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in malign operations to suppress dissent, not only in Tibet … but any place in the world," said the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group that promotes Tibetans' freedoms and rights.
After allowing Tibet to function autonomously from 1912-1950, Beijing retook control of the territory in 1951. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has lived in exile since 1959.
Increased China Warplane Activity Unnerves Taiwan
The increasing number of air force incursions from China is starting to fray nerves among ordinary Taiwanese, who wonder if their heavily armed political rival finally plans to attack after decades of threats, polls and analysts say.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force has increased the frequency and number of flights over a median line between the two Asian neighbors in the past four months, according to reports from Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense.
Eighteen Chinese military aircraft passed through Taiwan’s airspace Friday followed by 19 on Saturday, the ministry said. Saturday the planes flew in a formation designed to attack from the front, rear and both sides. Some aircraft were sighted in Taiwanese airspace over waters about 80 kilometers from Taiwan itself, according to maps posted on local news websites.
In response, Taiwan’s defense ministry says the island has the right “to self-defense and to counterattack.”
"As the Communist military has proactively developed military preparations in recent days and its ability to attack Taiwan keeps growing, the Taiwan army has set up its harshest battle scenario during its Han Kuang computer-simulated exercises to handle the new developments and new threats," Taiwan's defense ministry said in a statement Monday. Part of the annual Han Kuang exercises took place last week in Taiwan.
Movements cause 'anxiety'
“I don’t think that the general public is psychologically prepared for a true, realistic military conflict,” said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.
China’s warplane movements cause “anxiety,” said Wu Yi-hsuan, 29, a Taiwanese doctoral student. “The Chinese military seems to make turbulence and watch our ability to react,” said Wu, who worries that as a male citizen he might eventually be summoned for military duty.
A Yahoo poll, as of early September, had found that 64% of Taiwanese worry about a conflict, 33.5% are unconcerned and the rest have no view.
China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which has been self-ruled since the 1940s when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists and rebased in Taipei. China has never renounced the threat of force, if needed, to unite the two sides.
Beijing’s air force began flying planes occasionally near Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen took office as president in Taiwan and rejected Beijing’s condition for dialogue – that both sides identify as part of China. Military analysts believe China also has land-based missiles aimed at Taiwan.
"Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing Monday. "The so-called mid-line of the Strait does not exist."
Most Taiwanese oppose uniting with China, government surveys in Taipei found in 2019.
'Have this kind of illusion'
But a lot of people’s fears are muted by perceptions that China is just sending a political signal, analysts say. Some citizens expect Taiwan’s armed forces could protect them or that the U.S. military will fight for Taiwan if the island is attacked by China.
According to Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation poll in August, just 41% of Taiwanese people were afraid of Chinese military exercises.
“Taiwanese people now have this kind of illusion,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
“One is to say that the People’s Liberation Army won’t attack anyway, and that United States would defend Taiwan,” he said. “These are different conditions, but on the contrary there’s a big proportion of Taiwanese who think that’s the way it is.”
The U.S. government is not legally bound to fight for Taiwan, but it sells advanced weaponry and passes naval ships through the ocean strait separating the island from China. Washington is now ready to sign a $7 billion arms deal with Taiwan, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.
Officials in Beijing are particularly angered when the militarily stronger United States shows support for Taiwan. Last week, as the planes flew, U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach was on a visit to Taiwan. China flew fighter planes over the median line too in August when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar traveled to Taiwan.
Still, the U.S. government recognizes China diplomatically over Taiwan despite a growing list of political, trade and legal issues with Beijing during the presidency of Donald Trump.
'A predictable and expected reaction'
The details of China’s flights near the median line with Taiwan suggests that the PLA is not planning an assault, the strategic studies professor said. For that reason, he said, people don’t take the maneuvers too “seriously.”
He pointed toward the United States instead. “I think it’s a predictable and an expected reaction from the Chinese to show their attitude and to show that they are extremely unhappy about the increase of U.S.-Taiwan engagement in a more official fashion,” Alexander Huang said.
China’s military ranks third in the world, compared to Taiwan’s at No. 26, the GlobalFirePower.com database says. For now, at least, Taiwanese believe their own armed forces have a grip on the Chinese aircraft movement, said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies think tank in Taiwan. Taiwan’s air force normally scrambles its own planes when China’s come close.
“There (is) a lot of talk about Chinese intimidation over Taiwan and so forth, but I think the people still very much put trust in the national defense,” Yang said. “They are pretty much in control.”
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Chinese Property Tycoon Ren Zhiqiang Sentenced to 18-Year in Corruption Case
A court in Beijing Tuesday gave Chinese property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who once referred to China’s top leader, Xi Jinping,...
New York Police Officer Charged With Spying for China
U.S. authorities have charged a Tibetan man serving as a New York police officer with espionage, accusing him of gathering...
Increased China Warplane Activity Unnerves Taiwan
The increasing number of air force incursions from China is starting to fray nerves among ordinary Taiwanese, who wonder if...
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