China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in a report on Thursday.
The bipartisan commission said that new evidence had last year emerged that “crimes against humanity — and possibly genocide — are occurring” in Xinjiang. It also accused China of harassing Uighurs in the US.
China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills, which others have called concentration camps.
The UN says that at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang. Faith leaders, activist groups and others have said that crimes against humanity, including genocide, are taking place there.
Beijing denies the accusations and the Chinese embassy in Washington said that the commission was “obsessed with making up all sorts of lies to vilify China.”
“The so-called ‘genocide’ is a rumor deliberately started by some anti-China forces and a farce to discredit China,” an embassy spokesperson said.
The report called for a formal US “determination on whether atrocities are being committed” in Xinjiang, something required within 90 days of US legislation passed on Dec. 27 last year.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his final days in office before US president-elect Joe Biden succeeds US President Donald Trump on Wednesday next week, has already been weighing a determination. However, given the current turmoil in Washington, officials have played down the possibility of an announcement before that.
US Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat who cochairs the commission, called China’s actions to crush human rights “shocking and unprecedented” and urged Congress and the incoming Biden administration to hold Beijing accountable.
“The United States must continue to stand with the people of China in their struggle, and lead the world in a united and coordinated response to the human rights abuses of the Chinese government,” he said.
In Trump’s last year in power, relations between the world’s two biggest economies have plunged to their lowest level in decades with disagreements on issues including human rights, the COVID-19 pandemic, trade and espionage.
Experts say that a US genocide determination would be an enormous embarrassment for China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
It could also pose problems for Biden by complicating his dealings with Beijing, although his campaign had before the US presidential election in November last year declared that genocide was occurring in Xinjiang.
In October, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that Beijing was perpetrating “something close to” genocide, and other US officials have referred to concentration camps in Xinjiang.
Under international law, crimes against humanity are defined as widespread and systematic, whereas the burden of proof for genocide — the intent to destroy part of a population — can be more difficult to obtain.
Expectations that Pompeo might declare genocide were raised in June when he labeled as “shocking” and “disturbing” reports that China was using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Muslims.
He was referring to a report about Xinjiang by German researcher Adrian Zenz, which the commission report also cited.
Zenz had said that his findings represented the strongest evidence yet that Beijing’s Xinjiang policies met one of the criteria cited in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, namely “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the [targeted] group.”
A US genocide declaration would mean that countries would have to think hard about allowing firms to do business in Xinjiang, a leading global supplier of cotton. It would also raise pressure for further US sanctions.
On Wednesday, US Customs and Border Protection said that the US was imposing a region-wide ban on all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations that they are made with forced labor by detained Uighurs.
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