Skip to main content

Biden Urged to Prioritize Human Rights in China Policy

As the Biden administration retools the United States’ strategic approach to China, two dozen human-rights organizations are urging the president to take a tough stance on human rights, particularly in light of what they describe as “escalating and egregious abuses” in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

“The scope and scale of human-rights violations committed by the Chinese government inside and outside the country require a fundamental shift; many of the tools previously employed are no longer relevant or sufficiently robust,” said the joint letter, published online Wednesday. “We welcome senior officials’ statements that the U.S. government will hold the Chinese government ‘accountable for its abuses of the international system,’ and the suggestion that the U.S. will impose consequences for serious violations.”

The signatories of the letter include China Aid, Citizen Power Initiatives for China, Hong Kong Democracy Council, International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Uyghur American Association and the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

China’s government-sanctioned human-rights violations, the organizations said, must be one of the priority topics of discussion with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders.

“When meeting with high-level Chinese officials, ask for the release of wrongfully detained individuals, for the reform of abusive laws, for internet and media freedom, and for international standards on human rights and fundamental freedoms to be upheld,” the letter said. “The U.S. should consider restarting the bilateral human-rights dialogue only when independent civil society groups from China and the U.S. can participate, and when specific objectives and outcomes can be publicly discussed.”

Related Stories

The Biden administration, the signatories added, should back the June 2020 call by 50 United Nations human-rights experts for urgent action on China, which could include a special session of the Human Rights Council and the appointment of a special rapporteur to monitor and report on violations by the Chinese government. It must also “urgently support” an international investigation into human-rights crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region, where millions of ethnic minorities are believed to be detained in internment camps or employed in forced labor as part of a larger campaign of religious and cultural suppression. Since 2019, reports have emerged of Uyghurs who are routinely beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted or forcibly sterilized.

The signatories further ask that the Biden administration maintain sanctions on senior Chinese officials and Entity List designations on Chinese companies and government agencies engaged in human-rights violations.

“Target key government officials, state-run agencies, and companies, including state or military-operated businesses, credibly alleged to have committed serious human-rights abuses, and seek legal accountability under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act, the Tibetan Policy & Support Act of 2020, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 and other laws and policies regarding violations in Hong Kong and the Uyghur region/Xinjiang,” the letter said. “These sanctions will be significantly more effective if coordinated with other rights-respecting governments.”

China has vociferously denied all allegations, referring to any foreign criticism of its reported atrocities as “interference” in its internal affairs designed to harm the country’s interests. On his last day as Secretary of State under the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo said he believed that “this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the importation of goods made with forced labor in China was reintroduced into the Senate Thursday by Representative James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Thomas R. Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.).

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a version of which the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 406-3 in September, would create a “rebuttable presumption” that any goods made in Xinjiang are made with forced labor and therefore prohibited from entering the United States unless “clear and convincing” evidence demonstrates otherwise. At present, a Withhold Release Order from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) covers only cotton products and tomatoes. Previous shipments from Xinjiang detained by the CBP on suspicion of forced labor have included leather gloves, baby pajamas and hair extensions.

‘“We have watched in horror as the Chinese government first created, and then expanded a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps targeting Uyghurs and Muslim minorities. We now know the entire XUAR economy is built upon a foundation of forced labor and repression,” McGovern said in a statement. “Many U.S., international and Chinese corporations are complicit in the exploitation of forced labor and these products continue to make their way into global supply chains and our country. It is long past time for the Congress to act.”