Less than 24 hours later, the Trump administration announced on Tuesday that China’s violent repression of the Uighur population was genocide after broadly condemned the Chinese government’s campaign against mass internment, forced labor, forced sterilization and other human rights violations against more than 1 million Muslim minorities .
The move follows four years of growing tensions between the United States and China as outgoing Trump administration officials identify Beijing as the greatest threat to US national security in the coming century. It’s also a significant last-minute escalation in the stalemate between the two rival superpowers, just a day before President-elect Joe Biden took office.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing and we are witnessing the systematic attempt by the Chinese party state to destroy Uighurs,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement announcing the statement on Tuesday. “We will not be silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will do to the free world in the not too distant future. “
The United States is the first country to make a statement that could increase pressure on a new wave of economic sanctions against Chinese officials and encourage other countries, including US allies in Europe, to follow suit. The UK Parliament will vote on Tuesday on a proposal to prevent the UK from entering into trade deals with genocidal countries with a view to a trade pact between the UK and China.
“Does the use of that particular word trigger certain administrative or legal processes? Not necessarily. But as a political and diplomatic matter, it certainly escalates the problem, ”said Sophie Richardson, Chinese director at Human Rights Watch.
“This statement doesn’t change anything immediately, but as any victim will tell you, it means everything when the eyes of the world community see us and acknowledge that our horror is real,” said Rushan Abbas, executive director of the Uyghur campaign, an advocacy group.
Foreign policy first reported that Pompeo was considering last month’s declaration of genocide on the way to the door. Making the statement isn’t as straightforward as issuing a press release: In order for the United States to declare what is considered to be the most heinous crime against humanity, the authorities must go through a complex tangle of legal definitions and requirements, including those at the UN -Come convention, laid down, go through.
While both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have labeled the Chinese government’s actions as “genocide” – as Biden did in the 2020 campaign – some Biden transition officials at the time of the announcement may be reluctant to propose a new and significant one to the new president diplomatic rift with the world’s second most powerful country on its first day in office.
“I agree with that in principle. But why wait until the last day?” said New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and served as a senior diplomat in the Obama administration. “Sounds like Pompeo wants credit for the genocide call as he puts the responsibility of building international consensus on Biden and figuring out the immense consequences.”
But others said the move was long overdue. “It is high time the Chinese government officials responsible for years of gross, systematic human rights violations were brought to justice. And I’m excited to see how the Biden administration sets out how to move this issue forward, ”said Richardson.
The announcement came just hours before Antony Blinken, Biden’s candidate for foreign affairs, was due to testify in a confirmation hearing before the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Pompeo’s announcement represents the latest in a string of last-minute foreign policy moves aimed at including the Biden administration and trying to cement Trump’s “America First” agenda on the world stage, particularly when it comes to China. Another challenge facing the new administration is the Trump team’s last-minute decision to ease restrictions on US officials’ dealings with Taiwanese officials and to get a grip on the decades-old “One China” policy. In recent weeks, the government has also named Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, imposed new economic sanctions on large Chinese companies and declared the Iran-backed Houthi group in Yemen a foreign terrorist organization with potentially devastating humanitarian consequences.
As of 2017, China set up mass internment camps in northwest Xinjiang and swept hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups under the guise of a counter-terrorism campaign. Survivors of the camps have described political indoctrination, physical abuse and torture, forced labor and even forced sterilization of Uighur women.
The Chinese government has routinely denied that such human rights violations are taking place, labeling the camps as educational centers aimed at eradicating terrorist threats.