America has turned the screws yet again on China, this time admittedly on an issue that is actually Beijing’s domestic matter. Yet so cruel has been the calculated travesty of human and/or religious rights that the repression has eventually stirred the conscience of the comity of nations. That repression of Uighurs recalls the persecution of the predominantly Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar. Indeed, the persecution of minorities is the thread that links Rakhine to Xinjiang province.
It thus comes about that the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a bill that will require the Trump administration to toughen its response to China’s crackdown on the Uighurs, a Muslim minority segment in Xinjiang. Predictably, the critical legislative initiative has swiftly been condemned by the President-for-life, Xi Jinping’s Beijing. It is an exceptionally robust offensive by the House of Representatives, now helmed by a stern Speaker in Nancy Pelosi.
“Today the human dignity and human rights of the Uighur community are under threat from Beijing’s barbarous actions, which are an outrage to the collective conscience of the world,” she said shortly before the vote. On closer reflection, the Uighur Act of 2019 is a stronger version of a bill that had angered Beijing when it passed the Senate in September. It calls on President Trump to impose sanctions for the first time on a member of China’s powerful Politburo in the midst of the White House efforts to conclude a trade deal with Beijing.
This marks a further souring of relations as only last week Trump had signed into law a piece of legislation that supports anti-government protesters in Hong Kong despite furious objections from China. Reports suggest that China is considering a ban on what it calls “odious” US politicians over the criticism against Beijing’s policy towards the Uighurs. The Uighur bill, which was passed by 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House, requires the President to condemn abuses against Muslims.
No less crucially, it calls for the closure of mass detention camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang. The bill envisages sanctions against senior Chinese officials who it says are responsible. Specifically, it has named the Xinjiang Communist party secretary, Chen Quanguo, who as a Politburo member holds an important office in China’s leadership. Legislative- executive procedures would suggest that the bill has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate before being sent to President Trump.
The White House has yet to say whether the President will sign or veto the bill, which contains a provision allowing the Oval Office to waive sanctions if the President determines that to be in the national interest. Beijing has swiftly called upon the US to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs”. A statement from China’s National Ethnic Affairs Commission said “Xinjiang is China’s Xinjiang,” echoing another government mantra ~ “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong”. However rhetorical the assertion, the Communist Party of China is displaying its might in two direly restive parts of the world.