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Explained: What the US is planning on the Uighur issue, and why China is angry about it

China has detained at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, in "re-education camps" in the country's northwestern Xinjiang province

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 7, 2019 8:18:40 am
Uighurs China detention camps, China Uighurs Muslims detention, Muslims detention camps in China, China Uighurs Muslims New York Times report, Indian Express Explained A muezzin sounds the call to prayer from the roof of a mosque in Kashgar, in China’s far western province of Xinjiang (The New York Times: Adam Dean)

On Tuesday (December 3), the US House of Representatives passed by a 407-1 vote a Bill that seeks to impose sanctions on senior Chinese officials for their involvement in the detention of Muslims.

China has detained at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, in “re-education camps” in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang province, officially known as as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The region has been claimed by China since 1949, when the People’s Republic (PRC) was formed. The crackdown against the Muslims in the region — who are ethnically and culturally closer to central Asia than to the mainland Han Chinese — intensified after riots broke out in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, in which over 200 people were killed.

In order to become law, the Bill needs to be first approved by the US Senate, before it goes to President Donald Trump for approval.

What does the Bill propose?

The purpose of the Bill is “… to direct United States resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in China and the intimidation and threats faced by United States citizens and legal permanent residents”.

According to the Bill, The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act 2019, the regional Chinese government has systematically discriminated against the Muslims of XUAR. It also accuses the Chinese government of using “severe repression” in an “Orwellian fashion”, and calls what China claims to be vocational training centres, “political reeducation camps”.

If the Bill is to become law, it will impose targeted sanctions on members of the Chinese government who are “credibly alleged” to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.

The Bill specifically mentions the Xinjiang Communist Party secretary, Chen Quanguo. It also calls for the United States Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of US-made goods or services to any state agent in Xinjiang.

How has China reacted?

Angrily. The proposed law is a new strain in US-China relations after President Trump signed into law on November 27 The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019. Under this law, the US government must impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

China has always been thin-skinned about international criticism, and has repeatedly condemned the reactions of other countries to the ongoing anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Chinese state media has described the Uighur Bill as being part of Washington’s “smear campaign”.

In an editorial, the People’s Daily said: “For starters, Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about fighting violence, terrorism and separatism, maintaining stability and security, and safeguarding social and economic development in the region.”

China has always denied allegations of detainees being tortured and having no rights, and maintains that the facilities are vocational training centres meant to offer those who have committed some kind of offence an option.

In a statement on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “We urge the US to correct its mistakes at once, prevent this Bill from becoming law, and to stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs. China will take further reactions according to how the situation develops.”

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