In a development that signals further delays towards resolving the U.S.-China trade war, the U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly voted a bill that requires U.S. President Donald Trump to toughen its response to China’s genocide of its Muslim minorities.
The Uighur Act of 2019 is a stronger version of a bill that had angered Beijing when it passed the Senate in September. The bill calls on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on a member of China’s politburo.
The Uighur bill, which passed by 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House, requires the U.S. president to condemn abuses against Muslims and call for the closure of concentration camps in Xinjiang.
The Uighur Act of 2019 also calls for the imposition of sanctions against senior Chinese officials who are responsible for these acts of genocide and specifically names Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who, as a politburo member, is in the upper echelons of China’s leadership.
Before it becomes law, the revised bill will have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate before it is sent to Trump for signing. The White House has yet to say whether Trump would sign or veto the bill. The bill contains a provision that allows the president to waive sanctions if he determines that to be in the national interest.
Reacting in anger to the bill, China’s Foreign Ministry called it a malicious attack against China.
“We urge the U.S. to immediately correct its mistake, to stop the above bill on Xinjiang from becoming law, to stop using Xinjiang as a way to interfere in China’s domestic affairs,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has called China’s treatment of Uighurs as “the stain of the century”.
U.S. Representative Chris Smith has called China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang as “modern-day concentration camps” which are “audaciously repressive,” and which involve “mass internment of millions on a scale not seen since the Holocaust.”
“We cannot be silent. We must demand an end to these barbaric practices,” said Smith while adding that Chinese officials must be held accountable for “crimes against humanity.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called China’s treatment of the Uighurs “an outrage to the collective conscience of the world,” adding that “America is watching.”
According to Chris Johnson, a China expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, the passage of the bill could lead to a further blurring of lines between issues concerning trade and broader deteriorations in China-U.S. relationship.
The House bill requires the president to submit to Congress within 120 days a list of officials responsible for the abuses and to impose sanctions on them under the Global Magnitsky Act, which provides for visa bans and asset freezes. The bill also requires the secretary of state to submit a report on abuses in Xinjiang, to include assessments of the numbers held in re-education and forced labor camps.
According to experts from the United Nations, at least 1 million Uighurs and members of other largely Muslim minority groups have been house in these concentration camps.
The bill effectively bans the export to of technology and technological goods to China which can be used for surveillance, including facial and voice-recognition technology.