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Politics

Democrats and Republicans agree to push back against human rights violations in China

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There aren't many things that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio agree on. Pushing back against human rights violations in China is one of them. Today, the House approved legislation imposing economic sanctions on China for goods sold to Americans from the forced labor of Muslim Uyghurs. NPR's Deirdre Walsh, who covers Congress, reports.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: The Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act would ban imports produced in the internment camps by ethnic Muslims in Northwest China.

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MARCO RUBIO: I guarantee you as I speak to you now, everybody in this building owns something that was made by a slave in Xinjiang, and I think most people wouldn't have - don't know that.

WALSH: That's Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who says his bill, similar to the one the House approved, has better enforcement than the current ban that's been in place for decades.

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RUBIO: This is a bill that basically says if products are made in that part of China in a factory, they're presumed to have been made by slave labor unless the manufacturer can prove it wasn't.

WALSH: The conservative firebrand is working with Massachusetts House Democrat Jim McGovern, a longtime human rights advocate who says the U.S. has a moral obligation.

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JIM MCGOVERN: I don't think any American, you know, wants to buy anything that was produced by people being forced to do something in internment camps.

WALSH: Rubio says corporate interests are pressuring the Biden administration to oppose the bill, but a State Department spokesman said today the administration does not oppose it. McGovern says the then-GOP-controlled Senate never took up the bill the House passed when President Trump was in office. He points to the Biden administration's diplomatic boycott of the Olympics in Beijing as the U.S. showing the world it won't turn a blind eye. He stresses this bill targets the government.

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MCGOVERN: This is not, you know, a knee-jerk anti-China bill. This is about trying to persuade China to change their behavior to stop the genocide.

WALSH: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made speaking out against the Chinese government a focus of her 30-year career. She bristled at the notion she would slow-walk this legislation.

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NANCY PELOSI: I take second place to no one in the Congress in my criticism of China's human rights record.

WALSH: The bill now heads to the Senate. McGovern is confident Biden will ultimately sign it. But the White House hasn't said whether the president backs the bill but says he shares concerns about forced labor. Deirdre Walsh, NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.