China blasts passage of US bill ordering sanctions over Uighur detention

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bipartisan bill that would call for Trump to impose sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for abuses in Xinjiang.

(RNS) — China has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. after the House of Representatives approved a bill to sanction senior Chinese officials for helping orchestrate the country’s brutal crackdown against its Uighur Muslim minority.

The Democrat-controlled House voted Tuesday (Dec. 3) overwhelmingly in favor of the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, a stronger version of the bill that passed the Senate in September. The Senate will need to vote once more on the revised bill before a reconciled version heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The bill would require the president to condemn Chinese abuses against Uighurs and call for the closure of the country’s wide network of extrajudicial detention camps in its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region.

It also calls for Trump to impose sanctions against the senior Chinese officials responsible for the abuses, specifically naming Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who is part of China’s powerful Politburo.

The sole dissident in the 407-1 vote was Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing Kentucky.

“When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs,” he said in a post on Twitter.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said China’s crackdown is “audaciously repressive” and involves “mass internment of millions on a scale not seen since the Holocaust.”

“That atrocities such as these can exist in the 21st century is astounding and enormously sad,” Smith said on the House floor. “So many Uighur Americans have experienced the pain of family detentions and disappearances. For those watching us today, the message you hear should be clear: This Congress wants to hold the Chinese government and Chinese companies accountable for crimes against humanity and the cruelty they inflicted on your families and loved ones.”

The vote comes amid unprecedented leaks of internal Chinese cables detailing the government’s brutal crackdown against its Uighur Muslim minority, tracing orders for the anti-Uighur actions all the way to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Xinjiang province in western China where many Uighurs live. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

A slew of independent reports have also emerged over the past several months, alleging systematic cultural genocide through cutting-edge surveillance technologies, forced DNA collection for ethically questionable science research, organ harvesting, family separation, forced abortions and sterilization, party indoctrination and “brainwashing,” forced labor, razing of mosques, bans on private and public Islamic religious observance, forced co-sleeping with Chinese officials assigned to live in and monitor Uighur homes, as well as other alleged abuses.

U.S. officials have likened the detention centers to “concentration camps” detaining up to 3 million Uighurs. In October, the White House enacted visa restrictions on Chinese officials involved in the crackdown and halted U.S. exports to Chinese technology companies involved in surveillance in Xinjiang.

But China has consistently denied any mistreatment at the massive network of detention camps, which they originally denied existed and now insist are “reeducation centers” that offer voluntary “vocational training” and help curb Islamic extremism.

Now, with trade talks hanging in the balance, Beijing has denounced the passage of the Uighur bill.

The bill “wantonly smears China’s efforts to eliminate and combat extremism,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement, accusing Washington of interference in its domestic affairs. The situation in Xinjiang, the ministry claimed, is “not a human rights, nationality, or religion issue at all, but an issue of anti-terrorism and anti-secession.”

The editor of the Global Times, a state-owned tabloid, said the government was weighing visa restrictions on certain U.S. officials and a ban on entry into Xinjiang by holders of U.S. diplomatic passports.

“The persuasive power of U.S. foreign policy makes it our responsibility to stand against blatant human rights violations when we see them,” said Wa’el Alzayat, who heads the Muslim political advocacy group Emgage and held nearly 100 meetings with congressional representatives to advocate for the bill. “The mass incarceration of Muslims in China is not a domestic affair, but rather an ongoing atrocity the world must fight to eliminate.”

Last week, Emgage also urged the U.S. Olympic National Committee to boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing over the country’s treatment of Uighurs.