Biden's so-called 'smart' trade strategy is backfiring big-time
Updated 08:18, 19-Jul-2022
Radhika Desai
Local residents walk in a street at a scenic spot in the ancient city of Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, May 16, 2020. /Xinhua

Local residents walk in a street at a scenic spot in the ancient city of Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, May 16, 2020. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Radhika Desai is a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba in Canada. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The Uygur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) had become law, starting on June 21, 2022. Although its impact is not fully known, it may well be the final nail in U.S. President Joe Biden's foreign policy of putting "smart" pressure on "autocracies" by rallying "democracies." Washington has engaged in hypocritical and futile behaviors for decades. However, more recently, as with the U.S.-led sanctions on Russia, they are backfiring. And the UFLPA will backfire big-time as well, given the massive size of China's economy.

The Act stands as a culmination of more than a four-year-long campaign, which claims Beijing has allegedly violated human rights, inflicted forced labor and even committed "genocide" in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The new law grants the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials the right to seize products suspected of originating from Xinjiang. The U.S. is making bogus claims the goods have been produced with forced labor. Hence, this places the burden of proof on the importers. 

Additionally, the UFLPA is founded on a pack of lies. There's no credible evidence of systemic forced labor in Xinjiang. Therefore, the real purpose of the Act is to wage a bitter trade war against China, to delay the nation's inevitable rise. 

Washington often sparks wars or trade wars by proclaiming to protect human rights and democracy, but the U.S. had a long legacy of slavery before its Civil War. And in the present-day, African Americans are still subject to disproportionate levels of poverty, unemployment and general economic, social, political and cultural marginalization. 

The U.S. is also silent about the numerous documented instances of forced labor in the country, not to mention the labor and immigration laws designed to enable hyper-exploitation of vulnerable groups. And let's also reflect the sorry state of its so-called democracy, better understood as a plutocracy.

Moreover, the UFLPA rests on a rebuttable presumption that can't be refuted: given that the U.S. political establishment continues to believe the falsehoods about Xinjiang, and how can an importer prove otherwise?

Finally, the onus of proving the non-existence of something raises the bar so high that only the human rights industry – the gaggle of NGOs, lawyers and officials who profit from the U.S. hypocrisy – is cheering. Businesses are already worried as they anticipate chaos to ensue.

People picks fruits in Aksu, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, August 27, 2018. /CFP

People picks fruits in Aksu, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, August 27, 2018. /CFP

The UFLPA could be very destructive to China's economy. But such fears seem exaggerated. The Act was signed into law by Biden last December: U.S. economic woes have worsened, its foreign policy is unraveling, its sanctions against Russia are backfiring while Biden's popularity is nosediving.

It was signed into law in a different era: before their proxy war erupted against Russia and as such – U.S. foreign policy has become more counterproductive over world affairs. 

While the UFLPA is considered to involve 'smart,' 'targeted' sanctions, how smart Biden is to confront China, an economy 10 times larger than Russia's is questionable while, given the sheer range of products that originate from Xinjiang, the Act stretches the meaning of "targeted" to the breaking point.

Beijing is unlikely to buckle under the pressure, while an overwhelming majority of countries remain happy to trade with China and take up any slack in demand caused by the closure of access to U.S. markets. U.S.-based companies are not eager to comply with the Act. 

Moreover, Washington needs more allies to go along with the Act, but will they? Many other sovereign states have shown reluctance to support the U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, such as in the case of sanctions on Iran. And now, allied governments and their citizens have also learned bitter lessons by placing mild sanctions on Russia, since they must remain reliant on Russian energy. Accordingly, will they really support sanctions on China?

The U.S. economy is already groaning under the rising burdens of inflation and the UFLPA, will make it much worse. Biden's popularity ratings are already lower than any president's since Eisenhower and more inflation can only sink to lower in a mid-term election year.

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