US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declared that the persecution of millions of ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang region constitute “crimes against humanity” and a “genocide.”
Pompeo made the determination just 24 hours before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. There was no immediate response from the incoming Biden team, although he and members of his national security team have expressed support for such a designation in the past.
Pompeo’s determination does not come with any immediate repercussions although the legal implications mean the U.S. must take it into account in formulating policy toward China.
Many of those accused of having taken part in the repression are already under U.S. sanctions. The “genocide” designation means new measures will be easier to impose.
“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People’s Republic of China, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party, has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“In addition, after careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that the PRC, under the direction and control of the CCP, has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”
The welcome move places added pressure on the UK government to follow suit and is sure to provoke a heated response from China.
Ministers are already expressing support to reverse key amendments to the Trade Bill, recently passed by the House of Lords, when it returns to the Commons on Tuesday – including one which would force the government to withdraw from any free trade agreement with countries the High Court rules are carrying out any form of genocide.
In a joint letter to colleagues on both sides of the political spectrum, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy and shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said it was “essential” for MPs to ensure Britain’s stance on “human rights” was “reflected in how we conduct trade negotiations around the world”.
Tory rebels are also supporting the proposed amendment and to acknowledge China’s increasing persecution of the Uyghur as genocide.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking minority ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia.
The growing persecution of the Uyghurs has come under the media spotlight in recent months, after viral online videos were shown depicting thousands of Muslims being packed onto trains and allegedly taken to one of the ‘work camps’ run by the state – reminding many of scenes from the holocaust.
The Chinese government stands accused of propagating a policy of sinicization in Xinjiang in the 21st century, with critics calling this policy an ethnocide or a cultural genocide of Uyghurs, and many human rights experts calling it a genocide.
In particular, critics have highlighted the concentration of Uyghurs in state-sponsored re-education camps, suppression of Uyghur religious practices and testimonials of alleged human rights abuses including forced sterilization and contraception, and human organ harvesting.