By Edward Wong Nov. 14, 2018
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in Washington are trying to compel the Trump administration to take strong measures against Chinese officials for their mass repression of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China.
Legislators introduced companion bills on Wednesday in the House and Senate following months of discussions on how to punish China for its treatment of the Uighurs, including sanctioning specific officials and limiting sales of products from American companies to certain Chinese state agencies. The push comes as China’s treatment of the Uighurs has come under increasing scrutiny by Western news organizations and international agencies.
The bills would put more pressure on the Trump administration to take action on what international officials and scholars say is China’s worst collective human rights abuse in decades. In Washington, administration officials are already starting to take a much harder line on China, including on trade, human rights and its military buildup in the Pacific.
Senior American officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, say Chinese officials are holding hundreds of thousands — and perhaps more than one million — Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims in internment camps across the northwest Central Asian border region of Xinjiang. Reports have emerged of torture, starvation and death in the camps, with officials forcing detainees to renounce standard Islamic practices and swear fealty to the Communist Party.
China has also set up a complex surveillance system using cameras, biometric data and phone apps in towns and cities across Xinjiang. And officials have mobilized more than one million Chinese civilians to occupy the homes of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang to indoctrinate and monitor them. Most of the civilians are ethnic Han, the dominant group in China.
Furthermore, Chinese officials are effectively holding hostage relatives of Uighurs who are abroad to force them to return to China to be detained or silence them about the human rights abuses.
But some Uighurs, including those in the United States, have been speaking out about the crisis. Uighurs in the Washington area with detained family members, including Rushan Abbas, a business consultant and former Defense Department interpreter, have met with officials and legislators and are pushing for the United States to take action.
The bills in Congress propose a wide range of measures and enjoy bipartisan support, increasing the likelihood that some form of the legislation could become law.
The legislation introduced Wednesday calls for the secretary of state to consider invoking the Global Magnitsky Act to impose economic sanctions on Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, the party chief in Xinjiang, engaged in the abuse. Officials in the White House and departments of State and Treasury have already been discussing this punishment.
The bills also ask the commerce secretary to consider prohibiting the sale or provision of any American-made goods or services to state agencies in Xinjiang. This measure is intended to prevent the sale of technology that might end up being used in the surveillance system or in the camps.
The bills would compel the director of national intelligence to report on the regional security threat resulting from the crackdown and on whether Central Asian and Southeast Asian nations are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and asylum seekers to China. And it asks the F.B.I. to report on Chinese state harassment of United States citizens, permanent residents and ethnic Uighurs or other Chinese nationals studying or working in the United States.
“The president needs to have a clear and consistent approach to China, and not turn a blind eye as a million Muslims are unjustly imprisoned and forced into labor camps by an autocratic regime,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In the Senate, Mr. Menendez introduced the bill with Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who is chair of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Fifteen senators signed the bill — seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent. Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey and a commission chairman, introduced the House version of the bill.
Mr. Rubio has been the most outspoken legislator on the Uighur issue. In July, the commission listened to testimony on the repression and heard from Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighur-American journalist for Radio Free Asia who said two dozen of her family members in Xinjiang have gone missing. Ms. Abbas and other Uighurs have also spoken to aides or members of the commission.
Adding to the pressure, 15 ambassadors in Beijing from Western nations sent a letter to Xinjiang’s Communist Party leader, Chen Quanguo, to have him explain alleged rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs, Reuters reported Thursday. Canada’s ambassador is leading the effort, which also includes envoys from Britain, Germany and Scandinavian countries, but not from the United States.
Chinese officials say the internment camps are set up for vocational training or for the eradication of Islamic extremism. On Monday, United Nations human rights officials sent a letter to China condemning recent regulations that justified the establishment of the camps, saying those violated international law.
Last Friday, Mr. Pompeo said he had raised the issue of religious repression — including specifically the mass detention of Muslims — with top Chinese officials at a meeting in Washington.