Biden agrees with Trump State Department on one issue: China committed genocide against Uyghurs
In a rare agreement on foreign policy, President Biden and the former Trump administration both accuse the Chinese government of genocide against ethnic Uyghurs.
On his last day on the job, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released determinations that China committed crimes against humanity and “genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.”
Within hours, Pompeo’s likely successor, Antony Blinken, was asked if he agreed with the State Department’s declaration during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“That would be my judgment as well,” he said. “Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the Chinese Communist Party – all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dodged the question about the administration’s stance on the issue Friday, but referred to Biden’s previous comments calling China’s treatment of the Uyghurs “horrific.”
During the presidential campaign in late August, the Biden campaign said in statement: “The unspeakable oppression that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms.”
The same day Pompeo declared incidents in the Xinjiang region genocide, a Department of Homeland Security official told Fox News that the department’s general counsel’s office has come to the same conclusion as the State Department, and will take appropriate measures.
A Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington called the U.S. accusations “a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law.”
The embassy claimed the actions by China in Xinjiang “are not about ethnicity, religion or human rights, but about anti-violence, anti-terrorism, anti-separatism and de-radicalization.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by announcing sanctions on Pompeo and several other former Trump administration officials.
Several Biden cabinet members have already publicly denounced China’s actions against the Uyghurs.
Treasury Secretary designee Janet Yellen called China “our most important strategic competitor,” while also accusing the country of “horrendous human rights abuses.”
As the Chinese government continues its damage-control operation by attacking former Trump officials, it has reserved judgment on the Biden administration so far.
A former senior administration official told Fox News that the Trump State Department prepared potential sanctions against about a half-dozen senior Chinese Communist Party officials for the incoming Biden administration.
It’s not clear if the Biden administration favors taking such action.
Organizations fighting for the freedom of people in Xinjiang, as well as establishing an independent state welcome the move by the previous administration, expect Biden to continue the same policy.
East Turkistan Government in Exile, an organization claiming to represent the people of the region, called the decision by the outgoing State Department “the culmination of a years-long debate over how to punish what many consider Beijing’s worst human rights abuses in decades.” The leader of the organization, Prime Minister Salih Hudayar, called on other countries to follow the U.S. and respond firmly to the genocide.
The land the Uyghurs have historically called East Turkistan has been occupied by China since 1949, and renamed Xinjiang.
“We firmly believe that without restoring East Turkistan’s independence, there is no way that we can safeguard the human rights [and] freedoms, yet alone the very survival of our people,” Hudayar said. “We have filed a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court over this genocide. The evidence that we have submitted include killings of people, historically, in the past, and even killings of people recently.”
Sairagul Sautbay told Fox News she was ” forcibly taken to a concentration camp, where I was forced to work as a Chinese language teacher for inmates.”
“I saw all the horrors there,” she said via a note that was translated. “In order to exterminate the Kazakh, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and other indigenous peoples of East Turkestan [sic], who had lived in their homeland since the time of their ancestors, the CCP imprisoned men and women, young and old, from all walks of life.”
She added: “Genocidal policy of the CCP destroyed millions of families and turned East Turkestan into a large open-roof prison. This crime is a genocide committed by the CCP against humanity after World War II. In this concentration camp, I witnessed the horrors of countless innocent people. Their hopes were dashed, and they were greatly weakened by hunger, insomnia, and torture.”
Experts say the issue will be a key test of the Biden administration.
Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese Business & Economics at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, predicts Biden will raise concerns but won’t attack China’s interests directly.
“We will see the president speak up on human rights, and the U.S. will engage with allies to come up with joint approaches to these issues,” he said. “This applies to Xinjiang, Hong Kong, China’s surveillance state and other human rights issues.”
Gordon Chang, an expert in U.S.-China relations, believes the U.S. is obligated to take action.
“Biden, who said he would be tough on Beijing’s human rights violations, will have to act against Chinese genocide or pay a political cost for not doing so,” Chang said. “Everyone will be watching.”
Fox News’ Rich Edson contributed to this report.
The right condemns China over its Uighur abuses. The left must do so too
Western hawks are playing global power games. But that shouldn’t stop all of us who care for human rights speaking out
In the dying days of the Trump administration, outgoing secretary of state Mike Pompeo declared that China was committing genocide against the Uighur Muslims. Yet there is no reason to believe he was sincere in his solidarity or his repugnance at state-sanctioned violence. That’s because, given Pompeo’s record, he’s clearly no friend of Muslims and no champion of human rights.
In 2014, he said the chief threat to the US “is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer”. A year earlier, he used collective blaming to tarnish all senior US Muslims for the acts of two terrorist bombers at the Boston marathon. “Silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts,” he said. Unsurprisingly, Act for America – an anti-Muslim hate group – bestowed upon him their highest honour.
And not only that: Pompeo provided weapons to Saudi Arabia’s dictatorship, used in Yemen to slaughter Muslims and plunge the nation into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And he visited illegal Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land, declaring their products would be labelled “Made in Israel”.
For Pompeo, the oppressed are mere chess pieces in a global power struggle – China is due to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy before this decade is over.
But while his motives should be questioned, the suffering of the Uighur Muslims should not. Despite the denials of the Chinese regime, the brutal campaign against the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region is real. According to Amnesty International, which has conducted hundreds of interviews with victims, about a million Muslims have been detained by the Chinese state. They suffer solitary confinement, beatings and the deprivation of food. China’s regime has built about 400 internment camps in Xinjiang: they describe these prisons as “re-education camps”, and leaked official documents call for China to “show absolutely no mercy” in the “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism”.
Indeed, Beijing uses rhetoric strikingly similar to those who prosecuted the west’s “war on terror”, declaring that its offensive is being waged against Muslim extremists and terrorists. Unsurprising, then, that Tony Blair, one of the chief architects of that war on terror, has bemoaned “double standards” applied to China and called for recognition “that China is facing the same problem as we [the west] are facing”.
A perennial complaint lodged against the anti-war left is that it has been quick to take to the streets against, say, the Iraq war or Israel’s brutal occupation, but you won’t find them camped outside the Russian or Chinese embassies. This is, in general, a bad faith critique. Citizens have at least some potential leverage over their own governments: whether it be to stop participation in foreign action, or encourage them to confront human rights abusing allies. But that doesn’t mean abandoning a commitment to defending the oppressed, whoever their oppressor might be. To speak out against Islamophobia in western societies but to remain silent about the Uighurs is to declare that the security of Muslims only matters in some countries. We need genuine universalists.
Given political leaders such as Pompeo have a self-evident interest in stoking tensions with China rather than defending Muslims, some people worry that condemning a rival power’s human rights abuses risks providing cover for those aiming to foment a new cold war. But this is to sacrifice oppressed Muslims on the altar of geopolitics: and indeed, it is possible to walk and to chew gum; to oppose western militarism and to stand with victims of state violence. It would be perverse to cede a defence of China’s Muslims – however disingenuous – to reactionaries and warmongers.
The British government has declared China’s treatment of the Uighurs as torture and introduced measures to prevent companies profiting from forced labour in Xinjiang: here is a principle that should be extended to other countries. But this week the government defeated an amendment cancelling post-Brexit trade deals with countries committing genocide – underlining, as ever, that economic interests trump human rights considerations. We don’t know just how grave the situation is in Xiangjing, which is why Amnesty International’s demands for China to allow in human rights observers should be supported. Those of us who urge action against the abuses of western allies should, for example, oppose British arms sales to China. Either solidarity is consistent or it is insincere: and the tyrannised Uighurs deserve better than to be reduced to pawns in games between great powers.
Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist