The House of Representatives on May 27 passed legislation calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the oppression of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority. The tally was 413 in favor, and just one opposed. Since the legislation has passed the Senate, approval sent the bill to the White House where congressional aides said they expected President Trump would sign it into law. The vote was historic, the first use of a new system allowing proxy voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill calls for sanctions against those responsible for the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim groups in China’s Xinjiang province. It singles out the region’s Communist Party secretary, Chen Quanguo, a member of China’s powerful Politburo, as responsible for “gross human rights violations” against them. “Congress sent a clear message that the Chinese government cannot act with impunity,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who led the push for the legislation. The measure passed the Republican-led Senate by unanimous consent. The overwhelming majority in the Democratic-led House was far more than the two-thirds majority needed to override any veto. The bill also calls on American companies or individuals operating in the Xinjiang region to take steps to ensure their supply chains are not “compromised by forced labor” there. “Today, with this overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation, the United States Congress is taking a firm step to counter Beijing’s horrific human rights abuses against the Uighurs,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Since 2014, the Uighur Muslim community in China has been affected by extensive controls and restrictions upon their religious and cultural practices, as well as social life. In Xinjiang province, the Chinese government has expanded police surveillance to watch for signs of “religious extremism” that include owning books about Uighur, growing a beard, having a prayer rug, or quitting smoking or drinking. The government had also installed cameras in the homes of private citizens. Additionally, the United Nations estimates that close to 1 million Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass prison camps aimed at changing their political thinking, religious beliefs, and identities. The Chinese government has denied any mistreatment at these camps and has claimed that the camps provide vocational training.
The increased efforts to place sanctions on the Chinese government for the human rights abuses carried out against the Uighur Muslim community comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Chinese government and the Trump administration. For example, President Donald Trump has escalated his ongoing trade war against China and has blamed the Chinese government (with little evidence) for planning out the Coronavirus pandemic as a form of biological warfare against the US. Additionally, President Donald Trump has publically floated the idea of launching military strikes against China as a form of retribution for the Coronavirus outbreak.