The Trump administration is considering sanctions against China over its treatment of the predominantly Muslim Uighur minority, according to reports in the US media.
A New York Times story on Monday cited former and current officials who said the White House was considering punitive measures against Beijing for human rights violations.
At a press briefing on Tuesday evening, State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert, refused to confirm whether sanctions were under consideration.
However, the New York Times report said discussions about how to deal with China over the abuses by White House, Treasury and State Department officials had been under way for months.
The official said the situation facing the Uighurs was a “tremendous concern of the United States Government.”
“We’re deeply troubled by the worsening crackdown, not just on Uighurs, Kazakhs, other Muslims in that region of China,” Nauert said, adding: “There are credible reports out there that many, many thousands have been detained in detention centres since April 2017, and the numbers are fairly significant from what we can tell so far.”
China has faced intense criticism in recent months, as reports of its treatment of Uighurs filter out.
The country is accused of running re-education camps, where Uighurs are forced to renounce aspects of their religious beliefs and ostensibly learn about Chinese culture.
State-backed media referred to the camps as “counter-extremism training centres”, while critics call them “concentration camps”.
A recent UN report found a disproportionate “mass surveillance” programme targeting Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released earlier this week said that as many as one million people were being held in “camps” across China’s western region.
The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic group who speak a Turkic language and are concentrated in the western Xinjiang region, where they formed a majority until migration by members of China’s dominant Han Chinese group.
The campaign in Xinjiang comes amid a wider crackdown on religion in China, with the country’s Christian minority also targeted.
On Monday, Beijing’s Zion church was banned and authorities confiscated “illegal promotional materials”.