The U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to punish top Chinese officials for detaining Muslims in internment camps.
The bipartisan vote, 413 to 1, cleared legislation that would compel President Trump to impose sanctions on Chen Quanguo, the top Communist Party official in Xinjiang, as well as instruct the director of national intelligence to produce a list of Chinese companies involved in the construction and operation of the camps.
“With this overwhelming bipartisan legislation, the United States Congress is taking a firm step to counter Beijing’s horrific human rights abuses against the Uyghurs,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We must continue to raise a drumbeat and shine the light of abuse perpetrated by Beijing against the Uyghurs whenever we can, from this House floor to the State Department to other multilateral institutions.”
The White House and the Treasury Department had previously refrained from imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the camps for fear of jeopardising the chances of reaching a trade deal.
But tensions have since risen with China during the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump’s campaign aides in recent weeks have attacked Beijing, possibly in part to divert from the administration’s own handling of the health crisis.
Following the vote the World Uyghur Congress called on U.S. President Donald Trump to urgently sign the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act into law.
In a statement the WUC said: “For three years, Uyghurs around the world have been called for the international community to take concrete measures to stop the Chinese government’s atrocities against the Uyghur people. As the friends and families of the Uyghur diaspora have been rounded up and arbitrarily detained in internment camps or disappeared, Uyghur activists in the U.S. and around the world have urged the international community and national governments to do something to end their suffering.”
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WUC President Dolkun Isa added: “We urge President Trump to sign the Uyghur Human Rights Policy into law as a matter of priority and take immediate steps to implement it.
“Our community needs the U.S. government and governments around the world to take real, meaningful action, as is provided for in this act. After years of suffering and frustration, the Uyghur people need hope.”
The Uyghurs are ethnically and culturally a Turkic people living in the areas of Central Asia commonly known as East Turkistan. There are an estimated 20 million Uyghurs living in East Turkistan and abroad, though Chinese sources put the number at 11.65 million.
The WUC says that after decades of repressive rule, the existence of the Uyghur nation is under threat as the Chinese government continues to carry out deliberate policies targeting their culture and religion. Human rights violations remain pervasive, the WUC says, including persecution on cultural and religious grounds, arbitrary arrests and the silencing of peaceful dissent.
The Uyghur leadership in exile is closely aligned to the U.S. government which is China’s main superpower rival. Many Uyghur say they have been forced to accept U.S. assistance because they have been abandoned by the Muslim world.
On the other hand, China has vehemently denied reports of abuses in Xinjiang, and has described the camps as “corrective facilities” aimed at training workers and combatting terrorism. It also accuses Western governments of launching a baseless propaganda campaign against the nation.