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U.S. To Declare China A Significant Human Trafficking Offender

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, the U.S. State Department is expected to take aim at China's record on human trafficking. It reportedly will group China with some of the world's worst offenders like North Korea and Syria. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Beijing. And, Anthony, what exactly is this criticism? What form's it going to take?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, this comes in a report from the State Department. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will give the report to Congress. And it's expected to downgrade China to the third - or lowest - ranking for countries. And that could, theoretically, trigger sanctions, such as the cutting of non-humanitarian aid to China. Or Chinese officials could be barred from cultural and educational exchanges with the U.S. because of it.

GREENE: Can you tell us a little more about the problem itself, like how human trafficking actually works in China?

KUHN: Yeah. You know, it's something we see here. As reporters, we report on topics like, for example, rural migrants who are promised jobs and then they get tricked into forced labor or prostitution or sometimes brides from Vietnam - or just from other areas - get sold to poor villages because bachelors there don't have many marriage options. Or it can even be would-be immigrants who get smuggled into the U.S., and then they end up toiling in Chinatown restaurants as indentured laborers paying off the smugglers.

It's an extremely complicated issue with very deep social, economic - social and economic causes. Now, last year's report said that China was doing a lot to fight the problem, including convicting over 700 traffickers. Now, this year, the report, which is going to come out today, will presumably say that China is not doing enough.

GREENE: And does China acknowledge that they're not doing enough, or what's their reaction to this U.S. move?

KUHN: Yeah. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded at a briefing today. He said no country is immune from this problem, and China does not appreciate being judged according to U.S. domestic laws and standards. Let's hear a clip of him here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LU KANG: (Through interpreter) We also firmly opposes the U.S. irresponsible remarks and evaluation of other country's fight against human trafficking.

GREENE: OK, so suggesting there that this is irresponsible on the part of the U.S. Anthony, I mean, there were so many questions about whether President Trump would be tough on countries like China when it comes to human rights. Is this a sign that he might be getting tougher?

KUHN: That's certainly one possibility. There's certainly lots of targets for criticism. Under the administration of President Xi Jinping in China, there's been a very tough crackdown on rights lawyers, on activists in civil society. And while rights groups are not saying that this trafficking thing is unimportant, they are saying it's not something they usually focus on.

So we'll have to see what the Trump administration does on other things, such as, for example, the Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who's been paroled with late-stage cancer. And we'll have to see if the U.S. pushes for him to be treated in the U.S.

GREENE: NPR's Anthony Beijing reporting from - Anthony Kuhn reporting from Beijing. Anthony, thanks a lot.

KUHN: You're sure welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.