China Orders Chengdu American Chamber of Commerce to Close Ahead of Kerry Visit

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have ordered the American Chamber of Commerce in Chengdu to cease operations.

The chamber told members it was being forced to closed “in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations,” and would no longer carry out any activities, employees of the organization told Reuters.

It gave no reason for the decision.

However, AmCham Chengdu chairman Benjamin Wang told Reuters that it was still “in discussions” with local authorities about its registration and future direction.

He said China’s ministry of civil affairs appears to be enforcing a rule that countries maintain only one official chamber of commerce in the country.

The Chengdu chamber isn’t affiliated with the American Chamber of Commerce in China, a business advocacy group based in Beijing with offices in several other cities, Reuters reported.

The move comes one year after China shut down the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in retaliation over the closure of its consulate in Houston.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department called on Beijing to work with the chamber to resolve any issues around its registration and future operations.

“This closure is only the latest example of how [China]’s opaque, arbitrary regulatory environment is contributing to an investment climate that is increasingly hostile towards foreign businesses,” the official said.

The move comes amid growing bilateral tensions over an ongoing trade war, Beijing’s human rights record, and the South China Sea.

The order to shut down the chamber came as the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry spoke in a video call with foreign minister Wang Yi, who said the ball is in Washington’s court if ties are to improve.

“Senior Chinese diplomats [have] urged the US to put a lid on its ‘toxic’ political atmosphere at home and stop treating China as a threat and opponent,” the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece the People’s Daily, reported.

“Kerry’s current visit comes amid the US facing several fiascos at home and abroad, and serves as a ‘water-testing’ attempts to see if cooperation with China can be enhanced beyond the global warming issue,” the paper said.

Concerns over forced labor

Kerry’s mission was also hampered by concerns over forced labor in the supply chain for solar panels produced in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where at least 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Turkic groups have been incarcerated in “re-education camps,” prisons, and facilities enabling forced labor.

Kerry told the House of Representatives on May 12 that the U.S. had a problem when it came to sourcing solar panels from Xinjiang, in response to a question in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing from Rep. Michael McCaul.

“When you look at the supply chain, when you look at China, they dominate the critical mineral supply and solar supply chains all coming out of Xinjiang,” McCaul said.

Kerry agreed, adding: “It is a problem.”

McCaul issued a written statement during Kerry’s China trip reminding the envoy of that exchange.

“Special Envoy Kerry told our committee earlier this year that the [Chinese] supply chain for solar panels uses forced labor,” McCaul said. “The Biden Administration’s own supply chain report detailed how the CCP is using unfair trade practices to control critical supply chains, including in renewable energy.”

He said any action on climate change shouldn’t be allowed to benefit forced labor or link U.S. supply chains to China.

“Special Envoy Kerry [should not] rely on the word of a genocidal regime with a history of ignoring international agreements,” the statement said. “We must neither sacrifice our values nor forget the track record of failed commitments with the CCP.”

Up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in a network of internment camps in the XUAR, where they have been subject to political indoctrination, abuse, and forced labor.

Chinese authorities have targeted and arrested numerous Uyghur businesspeople, intellectuals, and cultural and religious figures in the XUAR for years as part of a campaign to monitor, control, and assimilate members of the minority group purportedly to prevent religious extremism and terrorist activities.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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