China tells US to back off after planned legislation looks to sanction Beijing over imprisoning Muslims

Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesAn ethnic Uyghur woman holds her child in a local shop on June 28, 2017.

  • A group of bipartisan lawmakers plans to issue legislation on Wednesday designed to punish China over its persecution of its Muslim ethnic minority, known as the Uighurs.
  • Beijing subjects Uighurs to an unprecedented amount of surveillance in their home region. Activists say the country has imprisoned up to 1 million Uighurs.
  • The legislation, which was seen by Reuters, urges the White House to consider banning exports of US technology that could be used to oppress the Uighurs, impose sanctions against human rights offenders, and other actions.
  • China’s foreign ministry told the lawmakers, which include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, to mind their own business and focus on domestic US affairs.

Lawmakers in Congress plan to issue a bipartisan legislation to punish China over its persecution of the Uighurs, a majority-Muslim ethnic minority populated in the country’s west.

Beijing subjects the Uighurs to an unprecedented amount of surveillance in their home region of Xinjiang. China has reportedly also tried to gather personal information – like marriage certificates and drivers licenses – from the Uighur diaspora and threatening their families back at home if they did not provide it.

Activists have accused Beijing of imprisoning up to 1 million Uighurs in detention camps or re-education centres. Chinese officials claim that the centres and camps are actually “vocational training” centres that make life “colourful.”

The proposed legislation, slated to be introduced on Wednesday, lays out a variety of measures designed to call out and curb China’s human rights abuses against the Uighurs.


Read more: What it’s like inside the internment camps China uses to oppress its Muslim minority, according to people who’ve been there

Xinjiang uighur prayKevin Frayer/GettyUighur men pray before a meal in Turpan, Xinjiang, in September 2016.

According to Reuters, which has seen a copy of the bill, it urges the White House to:

  • Condemn China’s persecutions of Uighurs.
  • Call for a “special coordinator” of US policy on the Uighur issue.
  • Consider banning exports of US technology that Beijing could use in their surveillance and detention of Uighurs.
  • Consider sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the crackdown, including Chen Quanguo, the man believed to be the architect of the Uighur crackdown. The sanctions could come under the Global Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of human rights violators, imposes them with travel bans, and prohibits Americans from doing business with them.
  • Report to Congress on Chinese companies involved in the camp.
  • Ask the FBI to protect Uighurs living in the US from Chinese threats against them.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey are all sponsoring the bill. Rubio and Smith co-chair the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and are two of the most vocal critics of China in the US government.

On Monday a group of UN human rights officials also sent a scathing letter to the Chinese government, seen by Business Insider, expressing “concern” with China’s actions in Xinjiang. The panel described China’s Xinjiang’s policies as “incompatible with China’s obligations under international human rights law.”

China uighur uyghur security checkpoint policeEric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty ImagesA mural in Yarkland, Xinjiang, pictured in 2012 says: Stability is a blessing, Instability is a calamity.’

China to US: Stay in your lane

Beijing on Thursday slammed the congressmen for the bill, accusing them of an “incomprehensible sense of superiority” and of meddling with China’s domestic politics.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Wednesday: “I find it very strange, these US legislators with their incomprehensible sense of superiority, that have made such irresponsible remarks about the internal affairs of other countries! How much do they know about the real situation in other countries?”

She also accused US politicians of “ignoring the problems in their own country,” adding: “I hope that the American lawmakers can be more concerned about their own domestic affairs and do a better job of their own affairs.”

Xinjiang protesterOZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty ImagesA demonstrator wearing a mask painted with the colours of the flag of East Turkestan (or Xinjiang) and the Chinese flag in 2009.

China has slammed other countries for their criticism of the Uighur issue before.

After UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she received credible reports that China had detained up to 1 million Uighurs this summer, Beijing told her to back off and respect the country’s sovereignty.

When Turkey offered shelter to Uighur refugees fleeing China in 2015, Beijing warned that the offer could “poison ties and derail cooperation.”

Many Muslim countries have avoided criticising China over the Uighur issue, with experts saying that it’s because countries fear economic retribution from China or don’t want to draw attention to their own human rights problems.

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