Under new US bill, China could face punishment over Xinjiang Uygur camps

  • Bipartisan legislation urges the Trump administration to take a stronger line against the Chinese crackdown on minority Muslims
  • ‘Chinese government officials should be held accountable for their complicity in this evil,’ one of the bill’s sponsors said
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 4:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 6:33am

Citing “pervasive human rights abuses across Xinjiang”, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday urging US President Donald Trump to take a stronger stance in condemning China’s treatment of Muslim minorities in its far western region.

The bill, which will be presented to the US House and Senate in similar versions, asked the Trump administration to call on Chinese President Xi Jinping “to recognise the profound abuse and likely lasting damage of China’s current policies, and immediately close the ‘political re-education’ camps”.

The legislation, which mentions the possibility of sanctions, was put forth by lawmakers including Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey. Representatives Chris Smith of New Jersey, a Republican, and Tom Suozzi of New York, a Democrat, were among those introducing the bill in the House.

The legislation would require the US State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies to produce reports for Congress related to security risks, protection of US citizens from intimidation, Chinese disinformation efforts and the scope of abuses.

It also urges the agencies to report on Chinese companies involved in the camps and asks the FBI to take action against any Chinese government efforts to intimidate Uygurs living in the US.

China says world should ignore ‘gossip’ about fate of Uygurs in Xinjiang camps

The bill calls for a new US “special coordinator for Xinjiang” to respond to the situation, including coordinating a ban on the export of US technology that could be used in the surveillance and detention of Uygurs by Beijing.

“The internment of over a million Uygurs and other Muslims in China is a staggering evil and should be treated by the international community as a crime against humanity,” said Smith, who is also co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

“The Chinese government’s creation of a vast system of what can only be called concentration camps cannot be tolerated in the 21st century.”

The legislation comes as concern over China’s abuse of human rights has spread among Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

China has a long history of dealing harshly with its Muslim minorities. But the tensions have risen significantly in the Xinjiang region, home to Uygur Muslims, in recent years. As many as 1 million Uygurs are reported to have been held in “re-education camps”.

Western countries including Canada, France, Germany and the US have urged China to shut down camps in Xinjiang. Amid an international outcry, Trump’s senior aides have recently become more vocal in their criticism of China’s actions.

China changes law to recognise 're-education camps' in Xinjiang

Beijing has dismissed the nature of the Xinjiang detentions, urging the US and other countries to stay out of its internal affairs. Chinese authorities described the camps as “vocational training centres” used in the country’s religious de-radicalisation campaign.

The Chinese government has also said that far western Xinjiang faces a threat from Islamic militants and separatists.

Chinese officials also denied any citizens were detained arbitrarily and said that the UN’s figure of 1 million was inaccurate.

When asked on Tuesday if Beijing would allow international observers to inspect camps holding Muslims, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the world should ignore “gossip” about developments in Xinjiang and trust authorities there.

The bill introduced on Wednesday calls for the consideration of sanctions against Xinjiang party secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of the powerful Politburo, and other officials “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang”.

“Chinese government officials should be held accountable for their complicity in this evil and US businesses should be barred from helping China create a hi-tech police state in Xinjiang,” Smith said.

The bill cited the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorises the imposition of sanctions against human rights violators including a freeze of US assets, US travel bans and a prohibition on Americans doing business with them.