The U.S. State Department released a statement Tuesday denouncing the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang province as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”
The statement alleges that “since at least March 2017, the People’s Republic of China, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party,” has committed an ongoing series of crimes including arbitrary imprisonment, separating children from their families, and forced sterilization and abortions for Uighur women. It also accuses President Xi Jinping of hiding the “atrocities” by “obfuscation, propaganda and coercion.”
According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, these actions constitute genocide.
“We are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” the statement says, accusing China of being “engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image.”
I have determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 19, 2021
Uighur activist groups have also formally alleged that genocide is taking place, submitting documents that were at the core of ICIJ’s China Cables investigation as evidence in a complaint filed to the International Criminal Court in July.
China Cables confirmed, among other things, that Uighur camps are involuntary indoctrination centers and that Chinese officials use a sprawling mass-surveillance system to isolate Xinjiang from the rest of the world.
Pompeo’s statement also calls for China to abolish its system of internment camps, forced labor and population control measures, and to “afford Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities the freedom to travel and emigrate.”
It’s the harshest denunciation yet by the Trump administration, which has previously authorized sanctions against China over the mass detention of Uighurs, sanctioned four top Chinese officials considered the architects of the country’s internment camps, and imposed trade restrictions on dozens of Chinese companies that are believed to have a role in the crackdown against the Muslim minority.
Declaring the situation a “genocide” is a signficant final word against Beijing by the Trump administration, ending months of speculation.
“Uyghurs are set to benefit since this determination has binding implications for the U.S.,” Andrian Zenz, a researcher on China’s ethnic policy and internment campaign in Xinjiang, said on Twitter.
The statement comes the day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, whose campaign denounced China’s actions as genocide in a statement in August 2020. At the time, the Biden campaign accused President Donald Trump of “condoning this horrifying treatment.”
This is the latest in a series of worldwide efforts to pressure the Chinese government over its treatment of the Uighurs. On Jan. 12, Canada announced new regulations barring exports to China of products that “could be used by Chinese authorities for surveillance, repression, arbitrary detention or forced labour.”
The same day, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced measures including fines for businesses that “fail to demonstrate adequate due diligence in ensuring their supply chains are free from forced labor.” And one day later, the United States banned imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang.
In December, the European Union adopted a resolution condemning China’s actions and calling for member states to “swiftly evaluate the adoption of sanctions” against Chinese officials, but stopping short of characterizing it as genocide.
China has long denied accusations of human rights abuses against Uighurs.
“The so-called ‘genocide’ is a rumor deliberately started by some anti-China forces and a farce to discredit China,” a Chinese embassy spokesperson told Reuters Thursday after the Congressional-Executive Commission on China released a report stating that “crimes against humanity – and possibly genocide – are occurring” in Xinjiang.