President Donald Trump said he didn’t impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in placing Uyghurs in concentration camps because of trade negotiations.
“Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal,” Trump told Axios when asked why sanctions through the Treasury Department haven’t been enacted against officials or entities linked to the camps.
“And when you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on—we’ve done a lot. I put tariffs on China, which are far worse than any sanction you can think of,” he added.
Trump signed legislation last week that calls for sanctions against those responsible for repressing the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority who primarily live in a region taken over by the Chinese Communist Party decades ago.
Of the approximately 10 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the region, millions are in concentration camps, according to the U.S. government.
“The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the U.S. Defense Department, told reporters in a briefing last year.
The new bill condemns gross human rights violations of ethnic Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region and includes the authority to impose sanctions on certain foreign persons, the White House said in a statement.
Asked about Trump’s remarks Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that she would have to get back to them.
She noted that Trump signed the legislation and said that he has, in the past, blacklisted companies that are complicit in China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other minority groups. Both the Commerce Department and State Department have imposed restrictions on Chinese companies linked to the Xinjiang issues and the latter has restricted visas of CCP officials said to be responsible for some of the abuse.
Trump, in a statement after signing the bill, said the act “holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that the president’s comments about not imposing sanctions due to trade negotiations were “appalling.”
“Across the Xinjiang region, Beijing is subjecting the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities to a campaign of brutal repression, from the mass incarceration of more than one million innocent people to a pervasive state of mass surveillance and predictive policing to countless incidents of torture, forced sterilizations and extrajudicial killings,” she said.
Trump has been able to impose sanctions under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act since the time he entered office, Pelosi said, charging that his signing the act “rings extraordinarily hollow in light of his clearly stated lack of interest in standing up to Beijing.”
Trump told Axios that no one has mentioned it to him with regard to China.
“If somebody asked me, I would take a look at it,” he said. “But nobody’s asked me. I have not been spoken to about the Magnitsky Act. So if somebody asks me about it, I’d study it. But at this moment, they have not asked me about it.”