correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly referred to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is the ranking Democratic member of the committee. This version has been updated.
JAN KARSKI, a Polish resistance soldier, witnessed the plight of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 and, disguised in a guard’s uniform, slipped unnoticed into a transit camp of prisoners being shipped to the Nazi concentration camp at Belzec. Mr. Karski recalled later, “The chaos, the squalor, the hideousness of it all was simply indescribable. There was a suffocating stench of sweat, filth, decay, damp straw and excrement.” Mr. Karski reported to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1943 on the horrors he witnessed in occupied Poland, and much debate has centered on whether more action should have been taken to save the Jews. If there is a lesson today from this history, it must be applied to Xinjiang, where China is carrying out genocide of a people’s identity.
The victims are more than 1 million Turkic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province in China’s northwest, who have been herded into barbed-wire centers for forced assimilation into Han Chinese thinking and way of life. While Beijing claims the camps are vocational schools, eyewitnesses — the modern Jan Karskis — relate a story of coerced indoctrination and mass ethnic cleansing. People are not being killed as they were under the Nazis, but their way of life and their heritage are being eradicated against their will. These people are being stamped into conformity and obedience to the ruling Communist Party.
The existence of the camps has been confirmed by satellite photography, and outside investigators have shown that China is using Xinjiang as a laboratory for intrusive surveillance of the Uighurs, from video cameras to genetic fingerprints, creating massive databases that can be used to target the population.
Caught up in the trade dispute with China, the Trump administration’s response has been late, and negligent. The administration is still debating whether to impose sanctions on companies and people involved in the Uighur repression. Officials should stop talking and start acting. Meanwhile, bipartisan legislation aimed at holding the Chinese accountable, sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is in committee in the House. Hopefully it will pass both chambers soon.
One aspect of the bill would require reports to Congress on the transfer and development of technology for surveillance and mass internment, including a list of Chinese companies involved in the construction and operation of the camps. At the top of the list should be Hikvision, a giant of the video surveillance business, as well as other companies whose gear is used for such purposes. Hikvision products rely on technology sourced from the West, and denying such access can be leverage. We have previously expressed misgivings about the role of Huawei, also a Chinese corporate giant, in next-generation 5G communications networks, but cautioned about crippling sanctions that could destroy the company. However, Hikvision and others abetting the Xinjiang ethnic cleansing deserve punitive action. Also, senior Chinese officials who are overseeing the camps should be targeted by Global Magnitsky Act sanctions. These are the tools that exist today, and using them will show that the lessons of Jan Karski are not lost.