President Biden signed a major bill targeting China’s abuse of Uyghur Muslims off-camera and without media in the room Thursday, forcing press secretary Jen Psaki to deny he did so in order to spare the Chinese government’s feelings.
“He signs bills on camera. Off camera sometimes, sometimes on camera,” Psaki said. “We support the bill and obviously we’ve been leading the effort in the world to call out human rights abuses.”
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed the House and Senate without opposition last week. The bill prohibits the importation of goods from China’s northwest Xinjiang region unless the importer can prove it was not manufactured using forced labor.
The legislation also allows for sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses against the Uyghurs.
Rather than hold a public bill-signing ceremony, which might have included remarks by Biden chastising China’s Communist government for detaining thousands of people in re-education camps, the White House announced the measure had been enacted in a brief email to reporters Thursday morning.
Thursday afternoon, by contrast, Biden hosted a public bill-signing ceremony for legislation that seeks to improve treatments for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease — with $100 million in annual funding.
Biden hailed the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act — without mentioning the bipartisan Uyghur bill that he signed earlier.
“When we act together we get things done and this is totally, totally, totally a bipartisan effort,” Biden said in praise of the ALS bill.
Beijing has been accused of carrying out a cultural genocide against the Uyghurs, with harrowing reports from witnesses describing atrocities including torture, rape and forced abortion.
Biden has taken a seemingly soft touch on other matters sensitive to the Chinese government. For example, he didn’t press Chinese President Xi Jinping for transparency on the origins of COVID-19 during a 3 1/2 hour virtual summit last month.
Biden smiled last week and walked away after listening to a question from The Post about why he hasn’t done more to push China for transparency on the origins of the pandemic after 800,000 US deaths.
The US intelligence community said in August that it’s possible the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, calling the theory one of two “plausible” explanations, in addition to a natural transfer from animals to humans.
Biden has also kept many of former President Donald Trump’s policies toward China in place for now, including tariffs on Chinese goods and sanctions on Chinese officials for eliminating Hong Kong’s autonomy, as well as sanctions against officials for mistreating Uyghurs.
Trump said in a recent interview with Fox News journalist Maria Bartiromo that Biden hasn’t pressed China on coronavirus origins because “he’s afraid of” Xi due to his son Hunter Biden’s business interests in China.
“So they have something on him?” Bartiromo asked.
“Yeah. Of course they do,” said Trump, who is teasing a 2024 rematch against Biden.
Hunter Biden’s attorney Chris Clark said last month — less than one week after his father’s summit with Xi — that the first son divested a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment fund controlled by state-owned entities.
The firm, called BHR Partners, was registered 12 days after Hunter joined then-Vice President Biden aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing. The entity was influential in facilitating a 2016 deal in which a Chinese company bought a Congolese cobalt mine from US and Canadian companies. Cobalt is a key material for electric car batteries.
The first son’s lawyer has provided no information on the divestment, including the identity of the person or entity that acquired his stake, the date of the transaction and the dollar amount. Psaki recently said the White House would not be providing details on the transaction and referred The Post to Hunter’s attorney, who did not respond to requests for information.
Biden said last year that members of his family would not hold any business role that conflicts with “or appears to be in conflict” with his job as president, but until his lawyer’s statement, the White House had repeatedly said the first son was still working to “unwind” his Chinese holdings.
A 2017 email recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop described a 10 percent set-aside for “the big guy” as part of a prospective deal involving a Chinese energy company. Former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski said Joe Biden was the “big guy.”