Congress OKs New China Sanctions 05/28 06:43
Congress voted Wednesday to toughen the U.S. response to a brutal Chinese
crackdown on ethnic minorities, adding another factor to the increasingly
stormy relationship between the two countries.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress voted Wednesday to toughen the U.S. response to
a brutal Chinese crackdown on ethnic minorities, adding another factor to the
increasingly stormy relationship between the two countries.
The House passed a bipartisan bill that would impose sanctions on Chinese
officials involved in the mass surveillance and detention of Uighurs and other
ethnic groups in the western Xinjiang region, a campaign that has drawn muted
international response because of China's influence around the world.
The measure already passed the Senate and needs a signature from President
Donald Trump, who said this week he'll "very strongly" consider it amid U.S.
anger over China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak and tension over a
Chinese plan to restrict civil liberties in Hong Kong.
Both issues emerged, along with other sore points in the China-U.S.
relationship, as Republican and Democratic members of Congress spoke in support
of the bill. No one spoke against it, and it passed by a 413-1 vote.
"Beijing's barbarous actions targeting the Uighur people are an outrage to
the collective conscience of the world," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a
floor speech in support of the bill.
It was the first bill in history to pass with proxy votes after House
Democrats, over Republican objections, adopted a measure allowing such votes in
response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Congress late last year voted to condemn the crackdown in Xinjiang, where
Chinese authorities have detained more than a million people from mostly
Muslim ethnic groups that include Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in a vast
network of detention centers.
This new legislation is intended to increase the pressure by imposing
sanctions on specific Chinese officials, such as the Communist Party official
who oversees government policy in Xinjiang.
The legislation also requires the U.S. government to report to Congress on
violations of human rights in Xinjiang as well as China's acquisition of
technology used for mass detention and surveillance. It also provides for an
assessment of the pervasive reports of harassment and threats of Uighurs and
other Chinese nationals in the United States.
A provision that would have imposed export restrictions on surveillance and
other equipment used in the crackdown was initially passed in the House but
then stripped out in the version that passed in the Senate earlier this month.
Despite the limitations, the legislation amounts to the first concrete step
by a government to penalize China over the treatment of the Uighurs since the
existence of the mass internment camps became widely known in recent years,
said Peter Irwin, a senior program officer at the Uighur Human Rights Project.
"It signals that a member of the international community is actually taking
some steps to address the problem," Irwin said. "The legislation itself has to
spur the rest of the international community, particularly the European Union
and other powerful blocs of states, to actually take this as a template and
pass their own legislation."
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House China Task
Force, called what's happening in Xinjiang a "cultural genocide" of Uighurs and
other mostly Muslim ethnic groups.
The passage of the bill with strong bipartisan support would "show the
Chinese Communist Party and the entire world that their treatment of the Muslim
Uighurs is inexcusable and will not be allowed without serious consequences,"
China has publicly brushed away criticism of its crackdown in Xinjiang,
which it launched in 2014 as the "Strike Hard Against Violent Extremism"
campaign in a vast resource-rich territory whose inhabitants are largely
distinct, culturally and ethnically, from the country's Han Chinese majority.
The Chinese government, when not bristling at criticism of what it sees as
an internal matter, has also said the detention camps are vocational training
centers. Uighur activists and human rights groups have countered that many of
those held are people with advanced degrees and business owners who are
influential in their communities and have no need of any special education.
People held in the internment camps have described being subjected to forced
political indoctrination, torture, beatings, denial of food and medicine and
say they have been prohibited from practicing their religion or speaking their
language. China has denied these accounts but refused to allow independent