WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is poised to declare China among the world's worst offenders on human trafficking, U.S. officials said Monday, putting the world's most populous country in the same category as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria.
China's downgrade is to be announced Tuesday at the State Department when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unveils the annual Trafficking in Persons Report to Congress, said the officials, who weren't authorized to comment publicly ahead of the announcement and demanded anonymity. Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser, planned to attend the ceremony.
The determination marks the first major, public rebuke of China's human rights record by the Trump administration, which has generally avoided direct, public criticism of Beijing while seeking its cooperation in combatting North Korea's nuclear and missile threats. The report is likely to draw strong protest from China's communist government.
China will be listed under "Tier 3," the ranking system's lowest category, which applies to countries failing to meet minimum standards to prevent human trafficking or making significant improvement efforts. Other countries that have recently been on that list include Sudan, Iran and Haiti.
In last year's annual report, the U.S. placed China on its "watch list" of countries that aren't meeting minimum standards and could be downgraded to the lowest classification. The U.S. described China as devoting "sufficient resources" to a written plan for addressing trafficking. But it said that the Asian power hadn't increased its anti-trafficking efforts from the previous year.
It wasn't immediately clear what changes are leading the Trump administration to downgrade China to the lowest tier. The State Department declined to confirm the designation or to comment ahead of the report's release Tuesday, saying it "does not discuss details of internal deliberations."
In the 2016 report, the U.S. called China a "source, destination and transit country" for forced labor and sex trafficking. That report described internal migrants in China as particularly vulnerable, with some forced to work with little government oversight in factories and coal mines. It said men, women and children from other Asian countries and from Africa also are exploited.
The report also raised concerns about forced begging in China that particularly affects children. It said that girls and women from rural areas are at higher risk of being recruited for sex trafficking in cities.
Countries placed in Tier 3 can be penalized with sanctions, including the withholding of non-humanitarian aid and assistance that could affect agreements with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Officials from countries designated in that tier can be barred from participating in U.S. government educational and cultural exchange programs.
However, the president retains the authority to waive the sanctions in U.S. national interest or if the penalties could adversely affect vulnerable populations. In practice, countries given the worst designation have often been granted waivers under previous U.S. administrations.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., one of several lawmakers who had pressed the Trump administration to downgrade China, praised the move but urged the administration to follow through by imposing sanctions. He said he hoped the downgrade would "lead to reforms that will save women and children's lives and ensure that Chinese exports are not made with slave labor."
Ivanka Trump planned during Tuesday's ceremony to honor eight people from around the world "whose tireless efforts have made a lasting impact on the fight against modern slavery," the State Department said. She wrote on Twitter that she was "honored to join the Department of State" for the report's release.
"It's time to #EndTrafficking," she wrote.1 comment on this story
Though Ivanka Trump has emphasized human trafficking issues as an adviser to her father, her fashion brand has come under scrutiny over its work with a Chinese company that produced shoes for her brand and others. New York-based China Labor Watch has accused that company of excessive overtime, low wages and verbal abuse of employees, though not of human trafficking. The brand says it stopped using the factory months ago. Ivanka Trump has stepped back from running the company, but retains ownership.