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Trump vs. His Uighur Policy

A broad US-led effort to hold the Chinese government to international account for its abuses of largely Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang would, at the very least, remind China that the world is watching. Sadly, President Donald Trump’s actions will likely convince Muslims only of the depths of his hypocrisy.

WASHINGTON, DC – Last month, US President Donald Trump signed into law a bill allowing him to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass incarceration of more than one million Uighurs and members of other largely Muslim minorities in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. The bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA) condemned the abuses and called on the Chinese authorities to close their “vocational education” centers in the region immediately, ensure respect for human rights, and allow people living in China to re-establish contact with family, friends, and associates outside the country.

In theory, Trump could show genuine global leadership by implementing the act vigorously. Researchers in many countries have reported that, in addition to detention, Uighurs are being subjected to torture, forced labor, and sterilization. And two Uighur groups have accused the Chinese authorities of physical and cultural genocide in a complaint filed with the International Criminal Court.

The author Anne Applebaum has compared Western indifference to what is happening in Xinjiang today with the willful determination of European governments and the Vatican to ignore the famine Joseph Stalin engineered in Ukraine in 1932-33, and the Nazi concentration camps a decade later. One might add more recent examples to the list. Viewed against this background, the United States’ willingness to condemn China’s behavior and impose costs for it, even if only with individual sanctions, is a step in the right direction.

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