US legislators to urge China sanctions over Xinjiang crackdown

Proposed bill will urge Trump to condemn crackdown on Uighurs, press for ban on sale of surveillance technology.

Xinjiang, China
People mingle in the old town of Kashgar in Xinjiang in March last year [Thomas Peter/Reuters]

US legislators will introduce legislation on Wednesday urging the Trump administration to respond more strongly to China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslims, including possible sanctions.

The bill will also ask President Donald Trump to condemn China’s actions in the Xinjiang region, call for the appointment of a new “special coordinator” for US policy on the issue, and press for a ban on the export of technology that Beijing could use in surveillance and mass detention of the minority Uighurs, according to a copy seen by Reuters news agency.

The legislators want the government to consider human rights-related sanctions against Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who is also a member of the powerful politburo, and other officials “credibly alleged to be responsible” for the security crackdown.

“Chinese government officials should be held accountable for their complicity in this evil, and US businesses should be barred from helping China create a hi-tech police state in Xinjiang,” said Chris Smith, a Republican representative and one of the sponsors of the bipartisan legislation that will be presented in both the upper and lower houses of Congress.

Is China persecuting its Uighur Muslim minority?

Trump’s senior aides have become more vocal recently in their criticism of China’s treatment of its minority Muslims in Xinjiang.

Any decision to impose sanctions, however, would be a rare move on human rights grounds against China, with which the Trump administration is engaged in a bitter trade war.

The White House and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legislative proposal, which is also being supported by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.

Global Magnitsky Act

Beijing has dismissed accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and urged the United States and other countries to stay out of its internal affairs.

China’s top diplomat said earlier on Tuesday the world should ignore “gossip” about developments in Xinjiang and trust the local authorities when asked if Beijing would allow international observers to inspect camps where Muslims are believed to be held.

Western countries – including Canada, France, Germany, and the US – have urged China to shut down the camps in Xinjiang, where activists say as many as one million members of the Uighur minority and other Muslims are being held.

The Trump administration for several months has been considering targeted sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies linked to the crackdown, US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The measures could be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a law that allows the US government to target human rights violators around the world by freezing any US assets, imposing bans on US travel, and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.

Uighur activists in the US, meanwhile, marked their community’s “independence day” with a protest march in Washington, DC on Tuesday.

American-Uighur Aydin Anwar told Al Jazeera that China was attempting to “wipe out” the Uighur identity.

November 12 is the 74th and 85th anniversary of two short-lived Uighur republics, known as East Turkestan, which were established in territory that is now part of China.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies