Report that China forcibly sterilizing Uighur women 'shocking,' Pompeo says

Yuliya Talmazan and Leou Chen

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called "shocking" an Associated Press report that China is forcibly sterilizing and performing abortions on Muslim Uighur women.

Pompeo’s remarks came after the AP said Monday the Chinese government was taking the draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a campaign to curb the growth of its Muslim population.

NBC News was not able to independently verify the report's findings.

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Pompeo, a persistent critic of China, said in a statement Monday that the "shocking revelations" were consistent with decades of the Chinese Communist Party's practices "that demonstrate an utter disregard for the sanctity of human life and basic human dignity."

"We call on the Chinese Communist Party to immediately end these horrific practices and ask all nations to join the United States in demanding an end to these dehumanizing abuses,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to Pompeo's comments Tuesday by calling him “a brazen liar."

Zhao added that the Chinese government had always treated all ethnic groups equally.

The AP investigation, which cited research by Adrian Zenz, a German scholar on China, concluded that forced birth control in China is more widespread and systematic than previously known.

The AP also reported that China regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks and forces intrauterine devices (IUDs), sterilizations and even abortion on hundreds of thousands. Even while IUD and sterilization use have fallen nationwide, they are rising sharply in Xinjiang, home to millions of Uighurs, the report found.

The report used government statistics and documents, as well as multiple interviews with Uighur women to back up its claims.

For decades, China had a now-abandoned "one child" policy, during which authorities had encouraged, and often forced, contraceptives, sterilizations and abortions.

International rights groups have charged that the Chinese authorities are engaging in mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, while Beijing has vigorously denied allegations that it mistreats the minority community.

Uighurs are often forced into the so-called re-education camps, which leaked internal government documents have shown to be designed to run like prisons. The United Nations estimates that more than a million Uighurs have been detained in these camps, which Beijing says are a crucial part of its effort to counter extremism.

Chinese officials have said that since 1990, several thousand people have been killed or injured in explosions, assassinations, poisoning, arson and riots carried out by Uighurs.

China has responded to the criticism by questioning the treatment of ethnic minorities in the U.S., and saying that Washington uses the treatment of Uighurs as an excuse to smear the country and interfere in its internal affairs.

Monday's report on the forced birth control is the latest bout in the ongoing war of words between Beijing and Washington.

Earlier this month, Beijing threatened to retaliate after President Donald Trump signed a law calling for sanctions to punish Chinese officials for human rights abuses against the Uighurs.

It came after allegations in excerpts of a book by former national security adviser John Bolton that Trump told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he supported Beijing's construction of camps to detain the Uighurs. NBC News was not able to independently verify Bolton's claims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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