WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed legislation Wednesday that seeks to punish China for its crackdown on Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.
The bill includes sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass surveillance and detention of Uighurs and other ethnic groups in the western Xinjiang region. The legislation represents the most significant action to date by any country to punish China for a crackdown in which more than a million people have been detained in camps under harsh conditions.
It was expected to further inflame already tense relations with China.
Congress passed the bill with little opposition. Trump signed it Wednesday with no ceremony as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Hawaii to meet with a senior Chinese diplomat.
Trump issued a statement saying the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 would hold “perpetrators of human rights violations” accountable, but noting that a section of the law would interfere with executive authority to terminate certain sanctions and the administration would treat that section as non-binding.
Nury Turkel, a lawyer and Uighur rights advocate and member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, thanked the president in a social media post. “It’s a great day for America and the Uighur people,” he wrote.
Members of Congress intended the legislation to increase pressure on China over the crackdown in Xinjiang, where authorities have detained more than a million people — from mostly Muslim ethnic groups that include Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — in a vast network of detention centers.
It would impose sanctions on specific Chinese officials, such as the Communist Party official who oversees government policy in Xinjiang.
The legislation also requires the U.S. government to report to Congress on violations of human rights in Xinjiang as well as China’s acquisition of technology used for mass detention and surveillance. It also requires American authorities to look into the pervasive reports of harassment and threats of Uighurs and other Chinese nationals in the United States.
China has publicly brushed away criticism of its crackdown in Xinjiang, which it launched in 2014 as the “Strike Hard Against Violent Extremism” campaign in a vast resource-rich territory whose inhabitants are largely distinct, culturally and ethnically, from the country’s Han Chinese majority.