Nury Turkel, chair of the Uighur Human Rights Project advocacy group in Washington, called the House passage “historic” and urged Congress to reconcile the two versions of the bill this month. “The scope and scale of the crisis in the Uighur region demands urgent action in Congress to send this bill to President Trump’s desk for his signature,” he said. The Senate version passed in September.
China has angrily denounced both the Uighur and Hong Kong measures and said Wednesday that it would respond to the House’s passage of the Uighur Act.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged the United States to “immediately correct its mistake, stop the above bill on Xinjiang from becoming law, and stop using Xinjiang as a way to interfere in China’s domestic affairs.”
The state-run Global Times tabloid suggested in an article that China could take aim at American companies doing business in China by placing them on an “unreliable entities” list. Hu Xijin, the paper’s editor, tweeted that Xinjiang officials would shrug off the sanctions because they have no connections with the United States. “But U.S. politicians with stakes in China should be careful,” he said.
The back-to-back U.S. measures targeting the Chinese government’s handling of Hong Kong and Xinjiang — two of the most politically sensitive regions in the eyes of Communist Party leaders — have added strain to the bilateral relationship at a time when the two sides are struggling to reach a trade deal.
Trump acknowledged this week that the new Hong Kong legislation complicates trade talks. He played down the possibility of an imminent deal a day later, telling reporters during a visit to London that “I like the idea” of waiting until after the November 2020 election to reach an accord even though the Chinese “want to make a deal now.”
The Uighur Act would probably target officials including Xinjiang’s regional Communist Party chief, Chen Quanguo, a member of the ruling party’s elite 25-person Politburo whom researchers consider responsible for overseeing the detention and surveillance program in Xinjiang. The three-year crackdown has led to the detention of at least 1 million Uighurs in reeducation camps, designed to mold them into secular, patriotic citizens who embrace Chinese customs and language.
The program has been extensively documented in media reports, satellite imagery and public and leaked Chinese government documents. Chinese officials initially denied the camps’ existence but now describe them as vocational boarding schools that allow “trainees” to graduate into gainful employment.
In remarks Tuesday on the House floor, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), a Uighur Act co-sponsor, said the Xinjiang detention program was “on a scale not seen since the Holocaust.”
“This Congress wants to hold the Chinese government and Chinese companies accountable for crimes against humanity and the cruelty they inflicted,” Smith said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in remarks supporting the bill that “the human dignity and human rights of the Uighur community are under threat from Beijing — Beijing’s barbarous actions, which are an outrage to the collective conscience of the world.”
In October, the Trump administration placed visa restrictions on Chinese officials involved in the Xinjiang crackdown and barred the export of U.S. products to Chinese technology companies involved in the region’s surveillance.
Chinese diplomats and state media have doubled down on their defense of the Xinjiang policy with increasingly pitched rhetoric. The Global Times on Tuesday launched a rare and personal attack against an American anthropologist at the University of Washington and an independent German researcher, accusing them of working undercover on behalf of a U.S. intelligence agency to “slander and smear China.”
Earlier this week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that it would sanction several U.S.-based nonprofit and human rights organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy and Human Rights Watch, but it did not provide details about what the sanctions would entail.
China also said it would deny the U.S. Navy port visits to Hong Kong.