US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Trump administration has determined China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” in its repression of Uighur Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang.
“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that the [People’s Republic of China], under the direction and control of the [Chinese Communist Party], has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday.
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The statement says “exhaustive documentation” of the events “confirms that since at least March 2017, local authorities dramatically escalated their decades-long campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz”.
The determination comes a day before US President-elect Joe Biden is to take office. Biden’s campaign declared genocide was occurring in Xinjiang before the president-elect’s victory.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo added.
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
The Reuters news agency reported that US officials briefing reporters on the move said that “an exhaustive documentation of [China’s] own policies, practices and abuse in Xinjiang” viewed by Pompeo led him to make the determination that such acts had been committed since at least March 2017.
“This is a very serious and tragic set of actions that are taking place there in the western part of China,” Pompeo said in an interview on Tuesday on US TV station Fox News.
“This is forced sterilisation, forced abortions – the kind of things that we haven’t seen in an awfully long time in this world,” Pompeo said.
He said the designation is something they have been working on “for an awfully long time”.
The move is likely to place further strain on the deteriorating ties between the world’s leading economies.
Washington has ramped up sanctions on Beijing over alleged abuses not only in Xinjiang, but also in Tibet, and Hong Kong as well as its increasingly assertive claims in the disputed South China Sea.
The Trump administration has also taken action against Huawei, one of China’s leading telecommunications companies, as it plans to expand throughout Europe and North America.
‘Threat is real’
Pompeo’s announcement came after an attempt to insert a ‘genocide clause’ into a trade bill to prevent the United Kingdom from doing business with countries the courts determine to be committing genocide – a move largely targeted at China – ended in failure despite support from senior members of the ruling Conservative party.
MPs voted 319 to 308 against the amendment. The bill will now return to the upper house and those in favour of the amendment signalled that they would continue to pursue the changes.
“Today’s rebellion shows the Govt can’t ignore calls to bring genocide cases before UK courts,” Iain Duncan Smith, a former party leader and minister, wrote on Twitter.
Today’s rebellion shows the Govt can’t ignore calls to bring genocide cases before UK courts. We’ll continue to work on this amendment, considering all points MPs made today. I hope the @UKHouseofLords will ensure an improved amendment returns to the @HouseofCommons https://t.co/20wYfpfZqy
— Iain Duncan Smith MP (@MPIainDS) January 19, 2021
The US determination followed new legislation that was passed in Congress on December 27 requiring the administration to determine within 90 days whether forced labour or other alleged crimes against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were crimes against humanity or genocide.
China has been widely criticised for complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centres” to stamp out “extremism” and give people new skills, but which others have called detention camps.
Beijing denies accusations of genocide.
Pompeo’s determination does not have immediate effects, though it places a spotlight on Xinjiang, one of the world’s leading regions for producing cotton.
Last week, the United States imposed a ban on all cotton and tomato products from the region.
Pompeo said on Tuesday “the threat from the Chinese Communist Party is real. It is existential to the United States”, and that he is “counting on the next administration continuing our work”.