U.S. regards China's Uighur policy as genocide

Nellie Chapman
January 20, 2021

The rarely used designation is sure to provoke an angry response from Beijing.

In August, the incoming Biden team termed the persecution of Uighurs a genocide, but the Trump administration did not make a formal declaration, reportedly over concerns of its impact on trade talks.

Mr Pompeo's declaration means that the Biden administration could stand by the genocide declaration while potentially finding areas of cooperation with China without facing Beijing's anger for issuing the statement.

A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on September 4., 2018.

Many of those accused of having taken part in repression in Xinjiang are already under United States sanctions.

Pompeo said he made the move - which is certain to strain further already frayed ties between the world's top economies - "after careful examination of the available facts", accusing the Chinese Communist Party of crimes against humanity against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities since at least March 2017.

As the U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention notes on its website, "To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

The Associated Press wrote about widespread forced birth control among the Uighurs past year, including mass sterilisation.

China has denied all the charges, but Uighur forced labor has been linked by reporting from The Associated Press to various products imported to the USA, including clothing and electronic goods such as cameras and computer monitors.

Today's move is the latest in a series of steps the outgoing Trump administration has taken against China.

Ties between the two countries have been at the lowest level in decades in the previous year of Trump's administration.

On Saturday, Mr Pompeo angered China by lifting restrictions on USA diplomatic contacts with Taiwanese officials. The Trump administration has already blocked imports from individual companies linked to forced labor in the region, and the US has imposed sanctions on Communist Party officials with prominent roles in the campaign.

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The Xinjiang region is a major global supplier of cotton, so Pompeo's order could have significant effects on worldwide commerce. Such a determination is rare and could prompt the Biden administration to impose even more sanctions on the USA rival.

An independent United Nations human rights panel said in 2018 that it had received credible reports that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims had been detained in Xinjiang.

China has denied all the charges.

But in a joint letter to lawmakers urging them to back the amendment, the opposition Labour Party's foreign affairs spokeswoman, Lisa Nandy, and worldwide trade spokeswoman, Emily Thornberry, said voting for the proposal will send a clear message that "when the most serious violations of human rights occur we will not turn away".

The genocide designation is a rare step for the USA government, which did not apply it to the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda until much later.

This is the first US genocide determination since the Obama administration determined ISIS's crimes against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria amounted to genocide.

While numerous governments have strongly denounced China for its oppression of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, the United States has now become the first government to officially determine the Chinese government's campaign amounts to genocide.

"Where there is a risk of genocide, there is a duty to act".

That "pressing question" is now the Biden administration's problem to solve.

There has been a heated debate over what to call China's atrocities against Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang, which include mass detentions, forced sterilizations, destruction of cultural heritage, and race- and religious-based targeting of Chinese citizens for extra surveillance.

"The Secretary's statement underscores the importance of appropriate global investigations and prosecutions of officials for the crime of genocide in Xinjiang", said Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees worldwide.

George W Bush's administration described Sudan's scorched-earth campaign in Darfur as genocide, while Barack Obama's administration said likewise about the Islamic State extremist group's mass killings, rape and enslavement of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities.

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