Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is leaving office with one parting shot: China, he said, is committing “ongoing” genocide against Uyghur, Kazakh and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through its use of internment camps, forced labor, forced sterilizations and torture.
In a statement on his last full day before Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is sworn in as president, Pompeo slated the Chinese government for “morally repugnant, wholesale policies, practices and abuses” designed to discriminate against and surveil ethnic Uyghurs and restrict their freedom of religion, expression and movement. He noted that the Nazis were prosecuted for similar crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Tribunals at the end of World War II.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said. “The governing authorities of the second-most economically, militarily and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are 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.” International convention defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
He further called on Beijing to “immediately release all arbitrarily detained persons and abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor; cease coercive population-control measures, including forced sterilizations, forced abortion, forced birth control and the removal of children from their families; end all torture and abuse in places of detention; end the persecution of Uyghurs and other members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, and afford Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities the freedom to travel and emigrate.”
Pompeo’s declaration, the harshest censure to date by a government against China, follows a slew of U.S. sanctions targeting Xinjiang, including a ban on all cotton products and tomatoes from the region, where forced labor is known to be rife. The move, announced last week, is an extension of a previous, narrower withhold release order, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that blocked imports from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organization that officials say operates detention facilities that employ Uyghur workers to farm and process cotton against their will. Last July, the Treasury Department placed the XPCC on its sanctions list, prohibiting all American companies and citizens—or non-American companies and citizens subject to U.S. jurisdiction—from engaging with the organization, whether directly or indirectly.
The Chinese government has refuted previous accusations of genocide and other human-rights abuses in Xinjiang. Speaking at a news conference in Beijing last week, Xu Guixiang, a deputy director of propaganda for Xinjiang, called the “utterly untethered fabrication of ‘genocide’ regarding Xinjiang…the conspiracy of the century.”
“People of all ethnic groups independently choose safe, effective and appropriate birth control measures,” Xu added. “There has been no such problem of ‘mandatory sterilization’ in the region.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, welcomed the state department’s decision to declare China’s actions against Uyghur Muslims a “genocide.”
“We welcome our government’s decision to finally and officially declare China’s heinous actions against Uyghurs Muslims as genocide,” Nihad Awad, CAIR national executive director, said in a statement. “China’s egregious actions in Xinjiang amount to a gross and ongoing violation of human and religious rights. China continues to disregard international law and United Nations treaties to which it is a party.”
Before the Nov. 3 U.S. election, Biden’s campaign had affirmed that genocide was occurring in Xinjiang.
“The unspeakable oppression that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide,” Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement at the time. “And Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms.”