President Donald Trump signed a measure Wednesday that would allow him to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in the western region of Xinjiang, where as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslim groups have been forcibly detained in large-scale camps as part of a so-called “deradicalization” crackdown against ethnic minorities.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which passed overwhelming in the House and Senate, is the first law to address the humanitarian crisis stemming from the arbitrary detention, torture and forced “reeducation” of Turkic Muslims, many of whom, critics say, are funneled into jobs at factories, farms and textile mills with coercive labor practices tantamount to modern-day slavery.
The legislation requires targeted sanctions and visa restrictions against Chinese officials and “individuals acting on their behalf” who commit torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment, prolonged detention without charges or trial, abduction or clandestine detention and “other flagrant denial of the rights to life, liberty or the security” of people in Xinjiang. It’ll also shift the burden of proof to importers who must show “clear and convincing” evidence that goods imported from the region are free of forced labor.
A report published by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in March collected “credible” accounts casting suspicion on a number of leading brands and retailers, including Adidas, Calvin Klein, Esquel Group, Esprit, H&M, Nike, Patagonia and Tommy Hilfiger, for selling goods that either directly or indirectly employed forced labor. All have either denied allegations or declined to comment.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the commission co-chair who introduced the bill in 2018 with Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and a bipartisan group of senators, applauded the president Wednesday for signing the act into law.
“By signing the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 into law, President Trump took a historic step in support of Uyghur Muslims worldwide and against China’s egregious human rights abuses and probable crimes against humanity,” Rubio said in a statement. “As the Chinese government and Communist Party continues its mass internment of at least a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, the United States will hold the CCP and its enablers accountable for their heinous crimes.”
Beijing hit out Thursday expressing “strong indignation” that the law meddled with China’s domestic governance.
“We again urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop using this Xinjiang-related law to harm China’s interests and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “Otherwise, China will resolutely take countermeasures, and all the consequences arising therefrom must be fully borne by the United States.”
The signing coincided with an allegation by former national security advisor John Bolton, via excerpts of a forthcoming memoir, that Trump told Chinese leader Xi Jinping the construction of camps to detain Uyghurs was “the right thing to do.”
Trump told the Wall Street Journal Thursday that his backing of the legislation proved he doesn’t support the camps and that Bolton is “a liar.”