In one of his last official actions as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo condemned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for committing “genocide” against the Muslim Uyghur community and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang province—a denunciation that his successor Anthony Blinken has endorsed.
On January 19, his last day in office, Pompeo issued a statement in which he referred to “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty” of more than 1 million civilians.
Titled “Determination of the Secretary of State on Atrocities in Xinjiang,” the statement said that based on a “careful examination of available facts,” at least since March 2017, “under the direction and control” of the CCP, China has committed “crimes against humanity against its own people.”
Chinese authorities, the statement added, have conducted “forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labor, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression and freedom of movement.”
That same day, during his Senate confirmation hearing, Antony Blinken said he agreed with Pompeo’s determination. “On the Uyghurs, I think we’re very much in agreement,” National Public Radio quoted him as saying. “Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps—trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party—all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide.”
Blinken reiterated his view the following day, January 20, in his first news conference as Secretary of State, shortly after Joe Biden was sworn in as President.
“My judgment remains that genocide was committed against the Uyghurs and that hasn’t changed,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about similar comments made by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Biden’s pick for U.N. Ambassador, during her confirmation hearing earlier that day.
Later on January 20, Reuters reported that a bipartisan group of senators announced it had reintroduced legislation aimed at barring any goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang from entering the U.S. The bill, first introduced December 27, requires the U.S. administration to determine within 90 days whether China has committed crimes against humanity or genocide.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo emphasized in his statement. “The governing authorities of the second-most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image.”
Following World War II, the Nuremberg Tribunals prosecuted perpetrators of crimes against humanity, Pompeo pointed out, referring to the massacre of 6 million Jews by the Nazis. “The same crimes,” he added, are “being perpetrated in Xinjiang.”
In April 2020, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan, independent federal government watchdog, called for China to again be designated on the State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for religious freedom violations that continued to deteriorate in Xinjiang.
Independent experts estimate that 900,000 to 1.8 million Muslim Chinese citizens have been confined in more than 1,300 concentration-style camps in Xinjiang, the USCIRF said in its 2020 annual report, echoing international concern and condemnation of the detentions.
“Individuals have been sent to the camps for wearing long beards, refusing alcohol, or other behaviors authorities deem to be signs of ‘religious extremism,’” the report said. “Former detainees report that they have suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.”
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