Passage of Uyghur Human Rights Bill Ignites Another Backlash From Beijing

December 4, 2019 Updated: December 5, 2019

The passage of a bill opposing the Chinese regime’s human rights suppression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang has drawn an angry response from Beijing.

This comes less than a week after President Donald Trump’s signing of two bills supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong prompted a similarly strong reaction from the regime.

On Dec. 3, the House passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 by an overwhelming majority of 407 against 1. A version of the bill had passed the Senate in September. The Congress is working on a final bill to send to the president for signing or veto.

The bill could lead to sanctions against certain Chinese officials, including the Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, for carrying out religious persecution in the region. It would also require the Secretary of Commerce to review and consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. goods to any state agents aiding the abuse.

Beijing Protests

Shortly after the news reached China, the country’s counterterrorism office director Liu Yuejin convened a press conference, claiming that the legislation was “creating something out of nothing” and “meddling with China’s internal affairs using the banner of religion and human rights.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has built a vast surveillance network in the region to monitor its 11 million Muslim inhabitants, as part of what the regime describes as “counter-terrorism” efforts. At least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims have been estimated to be detained in internment camps.

Survivors from these camps have told The Epoch Times that detainees have been subjected to brainwashing and other forms of torture in an effort to force them to give up their beliefs.

China’s vice foreign ministry director also summoned William Klein, acting deputy chief of the Mission of the U.S. Embassy in China, to lodge “stern representations and strong protest.”

At least six other government organs, including the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress, the regime’s rubber-stamp legislature, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body to the CCP, and the State Ethnic Affairs Commission voiced opposition to the bill.
The state broadcaster CCTV spent over 20 minutes criticizing the United States’ move during its evening news program.

Hua Chunying, the foreign ministry spokesperson, said the move is a U.S. attempt to “poison ethnic relations” while “smearing and slandering China’s successful ethnic policy.”

Hua also made note of the Hong Kong bill supportive of the pro-democracy movement, which Trump signed into law last week.

“Attempts to contain China with Hong Kong or Xinjiang issues will prove to be nothing but day-dreaming,” she said.

The hawkish state-run newspaper Global Times warned that the regime could release an “unreliable entity list” to sanction U.S. officials. Hu Xijin, editor of the paper, in a Twitter post warned that “U.S. politicians with stakes in China should be careful.”

xinjiang camps
A guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region, on Dec. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Human Rights Concerns

From the U.S. side, lawmakers and human rights activists have welcomed the bill, saying it progressed the cause of tackling human rights violations in China.

Omer Kanat, executive director for Washington-based non-profit Uyghur Human Rights Project, said on Dec. 3 that the move “paves the way for other countries to act.”

He expressed appreciation for the “strong bipartisan cooperation in addressing the agony of the Uyghurs,” adding, “tonight’s action gives Uyghurs hope.”

“This legislation takes the next step,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) during the floor debate.

“We cannot be silent. We must demand an end to these barbaric practices and accountability from the Chinese government. We must say ‘never again’ to the cultural genocide and the atrocities suffered by Uighurs and others in China,” he continued.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who introduced the Senate version of the bill, also applauded the House passage of the act.

“The Chinese Government and Communist Party is working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” Rubio said in a statement, adding that they will be working to pass through a final version of the Senate bill.

“Uyghurs deserve justice for the barbaric and abhorrent acts they have been forced to endure,” Menedez said.

CHINA-RELIGION-xinjiang
A policeman standing guard as Muslims arrive for the Eid al-Fitr morning prayer at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in Xinjiang, China, on June 26, 2017. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Trade Threats

The passage of the Uyghur Act has clouded the prospect of a quick deal to end the nearly 17-month long trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

When asked whether the bill’s passage would affect U.S.-China trade relations, Hua said: “there is no way this won’t affect bilateral relations and cooperation in important areas.”

“If the US takes measures that harm China’s interests, it must pay the price,” she said.

On the previous day, Trump said that he would not mind postponing a “phase one” trade deal with China until after the 2020 presidential election.

“I have no deadline,” he said ahead of the London NATO summit. “In some ways I think it’s better to wait until after the election with China.” He said that the agreement is “dependent on one thing—do I want to make it.”

Hua also said the regime did not “set a deadline for reaching an agreement.”

The regime has already announced sanctions against at least five U.S.-based NGOs and banned U.S. military vessels from entering port of Hong Kong in retaliation to the signing of the Hong Kong bill backing the city’s protesters.

Hua declined to elaborate on the details of the regime’s sanctions on the non-profits.

Trump said on Wednesday said that the two sides have remained in communication.

“Discussions are going very well and we’ll see what happens,” he said during a NATO meeting in London.

Follow Eva on Twitter: @EvaSailEast
RECOMMENDED