The annual report, covering the human rights conditions last year across roughly 200 countries, used more assertive language on the Beijing regime’s suppression in the Xinjiang region. It said that such crimes “occurred during the year against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang” and “were continuing.”
“The trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech to introduce the report on March 30, noting the Xinjiang abuse among a list of other rights violations around the world.
“We will bring to bear all the tools of our diplomacy, to defend human rights and hold accountable perpetrators of abuse.”
The toolbox, he said, includes working with Congress to sanction violators, imposing economic sanctions and visa restrictions; incentivizing countries “to take positive steps toward respecting human rights” with trade benefits and development aid; working with allies; and speaking up for human rights advocates. He noted the recent joint sanction with Canada, the UK, and the European Union over Xinjiang atrocities as a case of “the power of countries speaking out together.”
Blinken defended the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the “flawed” U.N. Human Rights Council, arguing that they “can do much more to move them in the right direction when we have a seat at the table instead of staying outside of the room” and that “in our absence, we have seen how autocratic governments use these institutions to undercut human rights.”
Blinken, in a marked departure from his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, stopped short of condemning the Chinese Communist Party, instead making his comments more general.
“Whether it’s China, Russia, or anyone else, we’re not standing against any of those countries. We’re not trying to, for example, contain China or keep it down,” he said in response to the blowback from Chinese officials during the Alaska meeting.
“What we are about is standing up for basic principles, basic rights, and a rules-based international order that has served us and countries around the world very, very well.
“And when any country in whatever way seeks to undermine those rights or undermine that order, yes, we will stand and speak out forcefully about it.”
Blinken added that autocratic governments have used the COVID-19 pandemic “as a pretext to target their critics and further repress human rights.”
In the midst of the virus crisis, Beijing has “disappeared” citizen journalists who went to Wuhan and publicized what they saw on Chinese social media. Zhang Zhan, one of the four most prominent among them and a former lawyer, was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a common charge the regime uses to crush dissent.
Aided by automation of its censorship machinery, Beijing ramped up its control of public discussion about the virus, suppressing references to the government’s pandemic response and punishing academics who strayed from official narratives in the name of maintaining social stability.
The State Department report noted the arrest of Chen Zhaozhi, a retired Beijing professor, following his online comment that the virus should be called a “Chinese Communist Party virus.” A Chinese primary school teacher lost his teaching license in March and spent 10 days in detention for questioning authorities’ virus numbers.
The restriction of press freedom also rose “significantly,” with some journalists describing “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia,” the report said.
Authorities have quarantined journalists to silence them under the guise of virus control and forced out foreign reporters by refusing to renew their visas or revoking their press credentials. In December, police arrested a Bloomberg reporter at her apartment, accusing her of “endangering national security.”
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, in an annual report on media freedom, found 82 percent of correspondents reporting “interference, harassment, or violence,” and 70 percent experienced interviews being called off due to intervention by authorities.
Cultural, Religious Suppression
The report also documented heightened ideological control over religious and ethnic groups, such as by replacing Mongolian language teaching with Chinese Mandarin in Inner Mongolia schools.
In addition to mass detention and torture in Xinjiang, Beijing’s regime has subjected practitioners of the meditation discipline, Falun Gong, to brutal persecution since 1999.
The Epoch Times reported on police going to Falun Gong practitioners’ homes to forcibly collect blood samples last September, which experts warned could be a sign of forced organ harvesting. Some survivors of Xinjiang’s internment camps also reported similar tests.
Zhou Xiuzhen, a Falun Gong practitioner from the northern Hebei Province, died in April from injuries suffered as a result of imprisonment and police harassment. Her husband, Bian Lichao, has been imprisoned since 2012 for his faith.