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US urges action on China’s Uyghur camps from Muslim world

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses the media at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, on January 27, 2016, amid a series of meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and high-level Chinese officials focused on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other regional issues. (U.S. State Department/Released)
September 30, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The United States wrapped up efforts at the United Nations this week to draw attention to the plight of Uyghurs detained in Chinese internment camps, calling on Muslim-majority states such as Pakistan to raise the issue with China.

While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promoted diplomatic efforts in New York to support the million or more interned Uyghurs and the broader cause of religious freedom, In Washington, lawmakers called on Pompeo to take concrete steps, including sanctions, to hold Beijing accountable for the repression in Xinjiang.

Pompeo said a U.S.-organized event cohosted by Canada and several European countries on the situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York drew more than 30 countries.

“We need many more nations, especially Muslim-majority nations, to speak out publicly against one of the worst human rights violations of the 21st century,” he told reporters on Friday.

During the New York gathering, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said that the U.N. had failed to hold China to account over its policies in the region, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

In a separate gathering on the U.N. sidelines, a senior U.S. diplomat asked why Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was outspoken about championing the Muslims of Kashmir but silent on China’s detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims.

“I would like to see the same level of concern expressed also about Muslims who are being detained in Western China, literally in concentration-like conditions,” said Alice Wells, US Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, in a report by the Agence France-Press (AFP) news agency.

“Being concerned about the human rights of Muslims does extend more broadly than Kashmir, and you’ve seen the administration very involved here during the UN General Assembly and trying to shine a light on the horrific conditions that continue to exist for Muslims throughout China,” she said.

Khan, asked about the Uyghurs at a think tank event on Monday, declined comment, saying that Pakistan had a “special relationship” with China and would only raise issues in private, AFP reported.

China has tried to counter damning reports about the Uyghur camps, first by denying they existed and then by describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

Global Magnitsky Act for Chen Quanguo?

China organized two visits in 2019 to the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Thailand.

Sullivan told the UN gathering his week that these trips and the China-friendly accounts they produced were “Potemkin tours in a failed attempt to prove” that the camps were humane training centers.

In recent weeks, a Jordanian journalist and an Albanian scholar told RFA’s Uyghur Service that their own trips to Xinjiang proved to them that reports by the international media about Beijing’s repressive policies targeting ethnic Uyghurs are accurate and the situation is grim. They said they were initially skeptical about reports about the internment camps.

Meanwhile, in Washington Senators Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Pompeo urging the Trump administration to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for religious persecution and human rights violations in China.

“President Xi Jinping’s ‘Sinicization’ campaign, which began in 2016, requires religious and ethnic minorities in the country to adhere to the Chinese Communist Party’s thoughts, culture and practices. This policy, coupled with tighter regulations and the government’s effort to exert greater control, has manifested in increased oppression and systematic discrimination of these minorities,” the senators wrote.

“Perhaps most egregious is the government’s massive internment of individuals from the XUAR. Reports estimate that at least one million people, primarily Uyghur Muslims, are currently being detained, indoctrinated, and manipulated in internment camps, many without knowledge of any impending release,” they added.

Inhofe and Reed called on Pompeo to “continue to explore options to halt Beijing’s growing suppression of religious minorities and hold the Chinese government accountable for its actions.”

The senators’ letter supported steps to punish XUAR Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo and other officials responsible for the repression of Uyghurs using the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The act is based on a measure created to address human rights abuses by the Putin regime in Russia.

The U.S. Senate earlier this month unanimously passed the first legislation by any nation in response to human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in the XUAR, which would authorize regular monitoring of the situation by various government bodies.

The bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, introduced by Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would appoint a special State Department coordinator on the XUAR and require regular reports on the region’s internment camps, surveillance network and security threats posed by an ongoing crackdown on the Uyghur people—if ratified by the House of Representatives.