US Lawmakers Call for Stronger Action Against China’s Treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang

April 4, 2019 Updated: April 4, 2019

WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on April 3 chastised the Trump administration for failing so far to impose sanctions over China’s alleged human rights abuses against its Muslim minority and called for punitive measures against a senior Communist Party official and Chinese companies.

A letter to President Donald Trump’s top advisers signed by more than 40 lawmakers said China’s actions in its western region of Xinjiang “may constitute crimes against humanity” and urged tighter U.S. export controls to ensure that U.S. companies are not assisting the Chinese regime’s crackdown there, either directly or indirectly.

It also asked the United States to strengthen financial disclosure requirements to alert American investors about the presence in U.S. capital markets of Chinese companies that are “complicit in human rights abuses.” The letter specifically cited Hikvision and Dahua Technology, which produce audio-visual equipment that can be used for surveillance.

China faces growing condemnation from Western capitals and rights groups for setting up facilities that U.N. experts describe as mass detention centers holding more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims.

Beijing has said its measures in Xinjiang, which are also reported to include widespread surveillance of the population, are aimed at stemming the threat of Islamist militancy. The facilities or camps that have opened are vocational training centers, the government has said.

Satellite image of detention facility in Xinjiang
Satellite image of a ‘vocational training center’ in Hejing County, Xinjiang, which began construction early 2018. (Nathan Ruser/ASPI)

Uyghurs and other Muslims held in concentration camp-like facilities, also known as “re-education” centers, are forbidden from using Islamic greetings, must learn Mandarin Chinese, and sing propaganda songs, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Uyghur children of parents who are detainees in “political re-education” camps or living in exile are being placed into state-run “orphanages” in Xinjiang by local authorities, a traumatized father has told The Epoch Times.

The news follows orders by Chen Quango, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Secretary in Xinjiang, to relocate all “orphans” in Xinjiang to state facilities by 2020.

Former detainees have also told The Epoch Times that Uyghurs are being tortured, raped, and killed in secretive “political re-education” camps.

The letter, which was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, urged them to swiftly slap sanctions on Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, a member of the Chinese leadership’s powerful politburo, and other Chinese officials “complicit in gross violations of human rights.”

The Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials, including Chen, since late last year, and though it has ramped up criticism it has held off on imposing the measures. China has warned that it would retaliate “in proportion” against any U.S. sanctions.

“We are disappointed with the administration’s failure so far to impose any sanctions related to the ongoing systemic and egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang,” the lawmakers said. “While the strong rhetoric condemning the Chinese government’s actions (in Xinjiang) from Vice President Pence and others is certainly welcomed, words alone are not enough.”

The group of signatories was led by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Chris Smith on the Republican side and Senator Bob Menendez and Representative James McGovern on the Democratic side.

They called on the Trump administration to apply sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. The federal law allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any U.S. assets, U.S. travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them.

By Matt Spetalnick. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.