The US may finally be taking action against China for its alleged human-rights abuses

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty ImagesA demonstrator wears a mask painted with the colours of the flag of East Turkestan, home to millions of Uighur Muslims under surveillance by the Chinese government.
  • The US may be eyeing sanctions against China for its widespread surveillance and detention of Uighur Muslims, according to a New York Times report.
  • The move follows a push from US lawmakers last month who sought to punish Chinese Communist Party officials.
  • The widespread surveillance and detention of Uighur Muslims has gained global attention in recent months, prompting a global call to action that spans the political spectrum.

The US is said to be eyeing sanctions against China over its widespread surveillance and detention of Uighur Muslims, The New York Times reported on Monday.

Officials are also seeking to limit the sale of US surveillance technologies that could be used to keep close watch on the 11 million residents of China’s northwest Xinjiang region, current and former US officials told the newspaper.

The move follows a push from US lawmakers last month who sought to punish Chinese Communist Party officials like Chen Quanguo, the current Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang who oversees the widespread crackdown on China’s minority Uighur Muslims.

In the letter spearheaded by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith, lawmakers from across the political spectrum called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to apply Magnitsky Act sanctions, which authorise the government to sanction human-rights offenders around the world.

The letter mentions reports that as many as one million Uighurs are being held in detention centres, referred to as “re-education camps” across Xinjiang.

Talk of potential US sanctions on China come at a complicated time, as the two countries are locked in an escalating trade dispute in which the President Donald Trump is threatening tariffs on $US267 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Last month, a UN human rights panel held a two-day session on China’s policies in Xinjiang, and raised alarm over “credible reports” of that China had turned Xinjiang into “something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone.”

Officials from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said various reports from the region indicate that Muslims are “being treated as enemies of the state solely on the basis of their ethno-religious identity.”

China responded to the allegations, calling the UN claims “defamatory rumours” and suggesting that the camps were part of the country’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The region has become one of the most intrusive police states in the world, and government surveillance of Muslim Uighurs permeates almost every aspect of their lives, from an expansive network of facial-recognition cameras which monitor their daily activity, to police collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types to keep a database of all its residents.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch released an expansive report on human-rights violations in Xinjiang which it said were of a “scope and scale not seen in China since the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution,” and urged nations to consider targeted sanctions against Chinese officials.

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