Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that China's policies on Muslims and ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang region constitute “crimes against humanity” and a “genocide.”
Pompeo made the designation came one day before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office. He did not say whether the Trump administration would attempt to impose any penalties on China as a result of the declaration.
The designation is expected to bring a sharp response from Beijing.
“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People’s Republic of China, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party, has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” Pompeo said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
Many of those accused of having taken part in the repression are already under U.S. sanctions. The “genocide” designation means new measures will be easier to impose.
China has imprisoned more than 1 million people, including Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, in a vast network of concentration camps, according to U.S. officials and human rights groups.
People have been subjected to torture, sterilization and political indoctrination in addition to forced labor as part of an assimilation campaign in a region whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Han Chinese majority, the wire service also reports.
China has denied all the charges, but Uighur forced labor has been linked by reporting from the AP to various products imported to the U.S., including clothing and electronic goods such as cameras and computer monitors. China says its policies in Xinjiang aim only to promote economic and social development in the region and stamp out radicalism. It also rejects criticism of what it considers its internal affairs.