Senate passes Uyghur bill, confirms China ambassador

U.S. Ambassador to China nominee Nicholas Burns speaks during a hearing to examine his nomination before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Senate on Thursday passed by unanimous consent a bill aimed at countering China over its genocide against the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang and confirmed President Biden’s ambassador to Beijing, in addition to two other nominees.

The bill, called the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, will be sent to Biden’s desk to be signed into law, having passed the House on Tuesday. 

The bipartisan legislation prohibits imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless individuals or companies can prove that commodities or materials are made free of slave labor, in an effort to crack down on Beijing’s carrying out of genocide against the Uyghur Muslims. 

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leading co-sponsor of the bill, said that many companies have already taken steps to ensure their supply chain is free of slave-labor, but said the legislation targets those who have yet to comply. 

“For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans — every one of us, frankly — unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said in a statement.  

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the bill, celebrated its passage as the U.S. sending “a resounding and unequivocal message against genocide and slave labor wherever these evils appear.” 

The bill’s passage marked a distinct victory for the Senate sponsors, which had been reconciled with the House — and passed on Tuesday — after two previous versions had passed in the Senate. 

Yet an effort Wednesday night to pass the bill by unanimous consent, and confirm the three State Department nominees, was blocked by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Wyden attempted to attach an amendment to the unanimous consent request, to extend for up to one year the child tax credit that expires on January 1. Rubio rejected Wyden’s amendment and the Oregon lawmaker objected to the unanimous consent request

Alongside the bill, the Senate confirmed Biden’s nominee for ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, in a vote of 75 to 18.

This Senate confirmed two other nominees, including Ramin Toloui, nominee for assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, on a 76-13 vote, and Rashad Hussain, nominee for ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, on a 85-5 vote.

The confirmations are notable as a minority of Republican Senators have exercised “holds” on dozens of Biden’s State Department and Department of Defense nominees — a process that excessively delays confirmation — in an attempt to extract policy initiatives or put forth political opposition. 

Rubio agreed to lift a “hold” he had on Burns in exchange for moving forward the Uyghur bill in an agreement with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), while also adding confirmations for Toloui and Hussain. 

“I want to thank the Senator [Rubio] for working with me to make sure that as part of his unanimous consent request, we’re going to be able to make sure we have the personnel in place to properly implement this policy,” Murphy said on the Senate floor, but called for more action on the dozens of pending nominations for both the State Department and the Department of Defense.

“And we will hopefully, before we leave — we have to before we leave — make substantial progress on that list in order to adequately protect our country,” Murphy added. “But at the very least, as we put forward this important new policy, it does make sense to accompany it, and its passage, with three key personnel who will be in charge of implementing it. So I believe we’re going to be able to modify this request in the following manner.”

Tags China Chris Murphy Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Marco Rubio Nicholas Burns Ramin Toloui Rashad Hussain Ron Wyden Uyghur Muslim genocide

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