By Paul Eckert
Washington must “strongly and decisively “ respond to China’s mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) with sanctions on officials responsible for abuses and blacklisting of companies using inmates as forced labor, U.S. lawmakers urged top Trump Administration officials.
A group of 48 Republicans and Democrats, led by Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. James McGovern, co-chair and chairman of the Congressional Executive Committee on China (CECC), made the demands in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
“The United States must lead the free world in addressing what may be crimes against humanity being committed in the XUAR,” they wrote.
“If ‘never again’ is to mean anything in the 21st century, then we must respond to one of the greatest ongoing tragedies of our time. If the U.S. and American companies refuse or fail to act, it will be a stain on our history,” they added.
“Congress has urged the Administration to respond strongly and decisively, and in light of recent reports, we are renewing that call,” said the letter, issued on Dec. 12, nine days after legislation supporting the Uyghurs passed a major hurdle.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was passed 407-1 in the Democratic Party-controlled House, requires U.S. President Donald Trump to condemn Chinese abuses in Xinjiang and call for the closure of mass detention camps where authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
The legislation, which passed the Senate in September, calls for sanctions on XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, seen as the architect of the mass internment policy. An amended version of the bill still has to be approved by the Senate before being sent to Trump.
This week’s letter focuses on sanctions against XUAR leaders and efforts to prevent U.S. companies that may be buying Chinese products made with forced labor.
“We urge you to publicly impose Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Chen Quanguo, the XUAR Community Communist Party Secretary, as well as other senior party leaders who have had a role in setting and implementing China’s ethnic and religious policies,” it said.
“The continued inaction on Global Magnitsky Act sanctions in light of the voluminous evidence showing Chen, in particular, to be a key architect of the current system of internment camps is simply inexcusable. The Treasury Department should move to approve and implement these sanctions immediately,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Magnitsky Act was crafted initially to deal with rights abuses by the Putin regime in Russia.
The Rubio-McGovern letter took note of recent reports that China is shifting former camp inmates to factories and other places to do forced labor and called for a tightening of existing blacklists and other U.S. policies designed to prevent American companies’ investment in and trade with firms that employ workers against their will.
“The system of forced labor that accompanies mass internment in the XUAR has effectively turned the region into a massive labor camp that cruelly exploits ethnic minority labor as part of a program of political indoctrination,” it said.
“Because forced labor is part of a larger Chinese government policy of social control, it is time for the Administration to take aggressive action to enforce U.S. law and eliminate illegal imports of goods made with forced labor and assembled or manufactured in the XUAR,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter called on the Commerce Department to expand the scope of the sanctions under the Bureau of Industry and Security “Entity List” of Chinese government departments and companies deemed responsible for the XUAR repression.