The Trump administration has determined that the Chinese regime has committed “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against Uyghur Muslims in the region of Xinjiang, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Jan. 19.
The move, made on the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, marks one of the administration’s toughest measures to condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) severe human rights abuses domestically.
“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that the PRC [People’s Republic of China], under the direction and control of the CCP, has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” he added.
The secretary also determined that the CCP had committed crimes against humanity in the region, citing Beijing’s detention of more than 1 million Muslims, and authorities subjecting the population to forced labor, forced sterilization, and torture.
“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,” Pompeo said.
The state secretary called on the regime to release all detained Uyghurs and end its persecution in the region. He also urged other multilateral and legal bodies to join the United States in its effort to “promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.”
Beijing’s repression in Xinjiang, perpetrated through its network of internment camps and mass surveillance system, has drawn international condemnation. The United States has slapped sanctions on a range of CCP entities, including a high-level government leader and state-affiliated organizations responsible for atrocities in the region. Last week, it imposed a ban on all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over forced labor practices.
U.S. officials briefing reporters on the move said in a call that “an exhaustive documentation of [China’s] own policies, practices, and abuse in Xinjiang” reviewed by Pompeo led him to make the determination. Such acts had been committed since at least March 2017, officials said.
The rare designation follows intensive internal debate after Congress passed legislation on Dec. 27 requiring the U.S. administration to determine within 90 days whether forced labor or other alleged crimes against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities constituted crimes against humanity or genocide.
“This is a decision that we do not take lightly,” one of the U.S. officials on the call said. “It has gone through a lot of process and a lot of analysis. The Secretary made the determination in his role… that this is the tool that we need to deploy at this time in order to advance this vitally important cause.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Trump administration “did the right thing” by making the declaration, describing it as “a call to action for the incoming administration, Congress, and our allies.”
“We must ensure that the U.S. and free nations do all we can to end these atrocities and ensure that it remains a priority of our nation’s China policy,” Rubio said in a statement.
Biden’s campaign declared, before the Nov. 3 U.S. election, that genocide was occurring in China’s western Xinjiang region.
The U.S. decision does not automatically unleash any penalties, but it means countries will have to think hard about allowing companies to do business with Xinjiang, a leading global supplier of cotton.
Reuters contributed to this report.