House votes overwhelmingly to hit China over Uighur persecution, internment camps

Peter Weber

The House voted 407-1 on Tuesday evening to approve the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which would encourage sanctions against Chinese officials found to be responsible for Beijing's detention of an estimated 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minority groups in China’s far west Xinjiang province. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, also restricts U.S. exports of artificial intelligence and other technology that China might utilize in its Uighur crackdown and the internment camps it's using to "re-educate" its predominantly Muslim detainees.

It the Senate passes the legislation and President Trump signs it, it would "mark the most significant international attempt to pressure China over its mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities," says BBC China correspondent John Sudworth. China sharply criticized the legislation, as it had a law Trump signed last week targeting Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Hong Kong. The new bill "deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China's efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism, and viciously attacks the Chinese government's Xinjiang policy," China's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The House legislation criticizes China's "arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment" of Uighurs and others in Xinjiang and specifically names Chen Quanguo, the province's Communist Party boss and apparent "architect" of the camps. "Former detainees and their family members have told The Associated Press that they were arbitrarily held in heavily secured, prison-like camps where they were pressured to renounce their faith and express gratitude to the ruling Communist Party," AP reports. The legislation also criticizes China's pervasive, invasive surveillance and accuses China of forcibly separating Muslim children from their families.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), the lone vote against the Uighur and Hong Kong bills, explained that in both cases, he voted no because "when our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs."

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