Pompeo labels China’s treatment of Uighurs ‘genocide’
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday declared that China is committing genocide against its minority-Muslim Uighur population and other minority ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.
He also took a shot at the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, arguing future policies might embolden China.
“If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future,” he said in a statement.
Pompeo said the determination that China is committing genocide is based upon nearly four years of documented crimes against humanity directed toward Uighurs and other groups like ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz, including arbitrary detention, torture, forced labor, sterilization and restrictions on freedom of expression, thought and movement.
“While the CCP has always exhibited a profound hostility to all people of faith, we have watched with growing alarm the Party’s increasingly repressive treatment of the Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups,” Pompeo said.
“Their morally repugnant, wholesale policies, practices, and abuses are designed systematically to discriminate against and surveil ethnic Uyghurs as a unique demographic and ethnic group, restrict their freedom to travel, emigrate, and attend schools, and deny other basic human rights of assembly, speech, and worship,” he added.
The determination marks the strongest denunciation of China’s actions in Xinjiang from the international community.
Pompeo, invoking the horrors of the Holocaust — the systematic murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II — continued on to say he believes acts of genocide by the Chinese Communist Party and directed toward the Uighurs are ongoing.
“The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image,” he said.
China denies that it is committing crimes against its Uighur population, saying reports of reeducation and forced labor camps are workforce training programs to better integrate the Muslim population into Chinese society. It has sought to promote released detainees as “graduates” of these programs.
Pompeo’s determination, likely to be welcomed by human rights groups, is likely to further inflame already fraught tensions between the U.S. and China as Biden comes into office on Wednesday.
The Global Justice Center, an international human rights and humanitarian law organization, said the U.S. is right to label atrocities in Xianjing as genocide, but raised concerns that Pompeo’s move is weakened by political considerations.
“The United States is right to bring the brutal, years-long repression of the Uighurs within the framework of genocide. What’s more, it correctly cited gendered crimes of biological destruction like forced sterilization and birth control. However, the human rights community should be alarmed at reports that this decision was motivated by policy goals instead of a legal obligation to prevent and punish genocide,” Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement.
“Our legal and moral duty to combat genocide should inform our policy goals, not the other way around. The US should be applauded for taking action to prevent the destruction of the Uighurs and we hope other nations join them. But we must see fighting genocide as a cause for humanity rather than a geopolitical wedge,” Shubin continued.
The determination of genocide may require more sanctions against China on top of those imposed by the Trump administration covering a host of areas related to trade, intellectual property, militarization of the South China Sea and sanctions already imposed related to Beijing’s repression of the Uighurs and other ethnic groups, and actions taken against pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Biden has said that he would not lift sanctions on Beijing right away to allow time to examine U.S. policy towards China.
As the Democratic nominee for president, he told the Council of Foreign Relations in August that China’s detention of more than 1 million Muslims in the Xinjiang region was “unconscionable.” His campaign reportedly said the atrocities taking place there amounted to “genocide.”
The president-elect has vowed to take a strong stance against China in line with global allies and with strong support from Congress to confront Beijing in the face of its provocative actions and repression of freedoms at home. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who is considered hawkish on China, welcomed the designation of genocide but criticized its timing.
“This decision is good and right, but it’s late. The United States isn’t taking the Uyghur genocide seriously. A lot of folks in the Trump Administration wanted to talk about China primarily in terms of a trade deficit, and a lot of folks in the Biden Administration want to talk about China as merely a competitor,” Sasse said in a statement.
“The Chinese Communist Party is a genocidal dictatorship and Chairman Xi is evil. The United States has an obligation to meet this challenge head on and take the side of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang who are raped and tortured.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan commission that documents religious freedom abroad, praised Pompeo for labeling persecution against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims as genocide and called on the Biden administration to engage the international community to sanction Beijing and develop protective measures against the vulnerable populations.
“We applaud the Trump administration for recognizing the scope and depth of these atrocities,” the commission said in a statement.
“The American government must do more to hold China to account and to end this genocide. The incoming Biden administration has the unique opportunity to continue the hard work of confronting China’s atrocities.”
USCIRF, which is mandated to recommend religious freedom policy to Congress, called for an independent, international fact-finding mechanism to investigate China’s crimes against Uighur Muslims and impose targeted sanctions against officials responsible in acts of genocide.
“We urge American and other world leaders and corporations to condemn the genocide and crimes against humanity of the Communist Party of China that have been directed at Uighur and other Turkic Muslims. The perpetrators must be held to account,” the commission said.
Updated at 4:31 p.m.