A bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing legislation aimed at holding China accountable for reported human rights abuses against its Uyghur population.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the Senate and by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) in the House, condemns the “gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, and calling for an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China.” Both House and Senate bills have a broad swath of bipartisan cosponsors.
As many as 1 million of the minority Muslim population are believed to have been forced by the Chinese government into “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang province, according to a US congress report.
Former detainees say they were forced to endure intensive “brain washing” sessions including close study of Communist Party propaganda. The Chinese government has defended these camps as a means of fighting what they claim is a rising tide of extremism in Xinjiang.
“The United States must hold accountable officials in the Chinese government and Communist Party responsible for gross violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity, including the internment in ‘political reeducation’ camps of as many as a million Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” Rubio said in a statement.
The legislation urges President Donald Trump to condemn the abuses.
“The President needs to have a clear and consistent approach to China, and not turn a blind eye as a million Muslims are unjustly imprisoned and forced into labor camps by an autocratic regime,” Menendez said.
The lawmakers call for the State Department to consider Global Magnitsky Act and related sanctions on Chinese government officials “including Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and other officials credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.” It also recommends the creation of a special coordinator for Xinjiang position at the State Department to arrange the diplomatic and political response to the violations against the Uyghurs.
“The internment of over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims in China is a staggering evil and should be treated by the international community as a crime against humanity,” Smith said in a statement. “As a start, Chinese government officials should be held accountable for their complicity in gross violations of human rights and U.S. businesses should be barred from helping China create a high-tech police state in Xinjiang province.”
The legislation compels the director of national intelligence, the FBI director, the CEO of the US Agency for Global Media and the secretary of state to produce reports for Congress related to security risks, protection of US citizens from intimidation, the Chinese disinformation efforts and scope of the abuses, respectively.
Asked about the bills, a State Department spokesperson said they do not comment on pending legislation.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press conference on Wednesday that the bill’s sponsors were “too obsessed with poking their noses into the domestic affairs of others.”
“It is really a wonder to me that these lawmakers think they are so superior that they can point fingers at other countries’ domestic affairs. How much do they know about the real situation in other countries?” she said.
Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley have spoken out about the detention of the Uyghurs. During the US-China Security and Diplomatic Dialogue last week, Pompeo said he had a “good conversation” with his Chinese counterparts on the issue. However, Chinese Politburo Member Yang Jiechi seemed to defend China’s treatment of the Uyghur in Xinjiang as a matter of “China’s internal affairs” and said “foreign countries have no right to interfere.”
“Within the confines of law, the government has taken steps to crack down on ethnic separatist activities and violent terrorist crimes to safeguard national security and life and property of the people,” Yang said.
CNN’s Ben Westcott and Nanlin Fang contributed to this report.