The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced a list of imports Monday that are now prohibited from China's Xinjiang region due to the government's "illicit, inhumane, and exploitative practices of forced labor".
"These actions send a clear message to the PRC [People's Republic of China] that it is time to end its practice of state-sponsored forced labor and to respect the human rights of all people", U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, dismissed the notion that the facility is a "vocational" center as has been portrayed by Chinese authorities.
Washington and Beijing have repeatedly clashed over the practices, with the United States accusing the country of human rights abuses. "This is modern day slavery".
The flags of the U.S. and China are displayed as President Donald Trump and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, meet at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019.
Customs and Border Protection announced five withhold release orders (WRO) on products shipped from the region, saying they will be blocked at US ports of entry and won't be allowed into the American market.
CBP officials said they are now studying a measure to place a block on all cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang. Cuccinelli said that stronger action was still under review by the USA administration.
He told reporters on a conference call that the administration was conducting more legal analysis of the region-wide import bans.
The 1930 Tariff Act prohibits imports produced with prison or slave labor to ensure fair competition with USA manufacturers. Enforcement has increased since the law was strengthened in 2016 under President Barack Obama.
The CBP in June seized 13 tons of human hair products suspected to have been made with forced labor from Xinjiang. Information reasonably indicates that Hefei Bitland uses both prison and forced labor to produce electronics.
In its orders, CBP named the Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing Co., Ltd. and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Co., Ltd., which make clothing in Xinjiang.
China also had agreed to purchase increased quantities of USA cotton under the countries' Phase 1 trade deal, which could be put at risk by a US ban on imports from China's dominant cotton-producing region.
An enhanced security state began to take shape in Xinjiang after 2009, when race riots left around 200 people dead in the capital city of Urumqi.
The US government is increasingly using such orders to pressure Beijing over its detention of more than one million members of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang for ostensible reeducation.