Two members of the US Congress have raised concerns about home rental firm Airbnb Inc’s business activities in China’s Xinjiang region, where Washington says Beijing is committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic groups.
Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James McGovern, two Democrats who respectively chair and co-chair the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, sent Airbnb a letter (PDF) asking about some of its listings in Xinjiang and other issues.
The legislators said they were raising “questions about Airbnb’s commitment to human rights and anti-discrimination in China as it sponsors the Beijing Winter Olympics” that starts next month.
“While Airbnb continues to maintain listings in the XUAR, it has not publicly condemned the continuing genocide taking place there, or other egregious, systematic human rights abuses being carried out against ethnic minorities in China,” the letter said, referring to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang.
The legislators cited an Axios website report that more than a dozen of Airbnb’s listings in Xinjiang are on land owned by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), which was hit by US Treasury Department sanctions in 2020.
The action freezes any US assets of the company and officials and generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them.
The letter cited the US Department of State as saying XPCC is a quasi-military organisation “directly involved in forced labor and possibly other human rights abuses” in Xinjiang.
The two legislators said Airbnb “continues to operate in a country whose laws require hosts to discriminate based on ethnicity, place of origin, or lack of a passport, when the ability to obtain a passport can be impossible for people of some ethnic groups”.
Airbnb did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2019, the online home rental company also came under intense criticism by Palestinian rights groups for continuing to list rental properties in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Xinjiang has become a significant point of conflict between Western governments and China in recent years, as United Nations experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in camps there.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington on Friday repeated its denials of abuses in Xinjiang and said certain members of Congress “repeatedly hyped up the issues and exerted pressure on companies”.
— China Commission (@CECCgov) January 7, 2022
It asserted some legislators had a “malicious intention of hijacking business with political schemes and keeping China down with Xinjiang-related issues”.
On Tuesday, Tesla was also criticised following its announcement that it has opened a showroom in Xinjiang.
Under intense pressure from the US Congress, President Joseph Biden signed a new law in December banning products made in Xinjiang due to the reported rights abuses.
The law imposes a near-blanket ban on the import to the US of goods from Xinjiang by requiring suppliers to first prove their products were not made with forced labour. Xinjiang is a large supplier of cotton and solar panels.
China said the US action is a form of “economic bullying”. Beijing also imposed sanctions on four members of the US government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom in retaliation for penalties imposed on Chinese officials over the Xinjiang issue.