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Bipartisan condemnation of China's Uyghur 'genocide' in doubt, as Biden administration wavers

"If the Biden administration is looking for a place to start with a bipartisan issue that they can bring the country together on, the China challenge is absolutely it," said former Mike Pompeo speechwriter Rob Noel.

January 24, 2021 8:08pm

Updated: January 31, 2021 11:54am

In a polarized political climate, U.S. leaders from both parties appeared for a brief moment to be united in condemning China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang, a plight Uyghur leaders say was first brought to light by the Trump administration.

The Chinese Communist Party has reportedly imprisoned more than a million Uyghurs in reeducation camps. While initially signaling it agreed with the outgoing administration's designation of the treatment of the Uyghurs as "genocide," the Biden administration is now reviewing the decision — leaving analysts to wonder if it has turned its back on a rare opportunity for bipartisanship.

China announced on Wednesday that it is sanctioning 28 individuals, including Mike Pompeo, with China's foreign ministry calling the former Secretary of State a "doomsday clown” and his 11th-hour designation of China as a perpetrator of genocide and crimes against humanity "a piece of wastepaper." 

"We led the world in exposing the horrific abuses in Xinjiang," Pompeo tweeted on Jan. 16. "Imposed sanctions on CCP [Chinese Communist Party] officials, halted imports of products made with forced labor, and so much more. When the world averts its eyes, America speaks up, and acts."

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Earlier this month, newly confirmed Secretary of State Tony Blinken endorsed the Trump State Department's designation of China's abuse of the Uyghurs as genocide.

"That would be my judgment as well," Blinken said during his Senate confirmation hearing. "Forcing men, women, and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect reeducate them to be adherents to the Chinese Communist Party — all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide."

Blinken also gave a rare Democratic nod of approval to Trump administration statecraft, acknowledging, "Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China." 

Now, however, the Biden administration is signaling that the genocide designation could be withdrawn due to technical flaws. 

"The State Department is reviewing that now because all of the procedures were not followed,"   Biden's pick for U.N. ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. "They're looking to make sure that they are followed to ensure that that designation is held."

Mary Vought, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Friday that she was encouraged by Blinken's remarks but concerned about possible backsliding by Biden.

"[If] forced to choose between a climate deal and addressing Uighurs held in modern-day concentration camps," wrote Vought, "will the president suddenly find China's crimes against humanity — and religious freedom — politically inconvenient?"

Rob Noel, a former speechwriter for Pompeo, meanwhile, called Blinken's defense of the Uyghurs "a beautiful moment."

"That was a great American moment of solidarity," Noel told "Just the News AM" television show. "[If] the Biden administration is looking for a place to start with a bipartisan issue that they can bring the country together on, the China challenge is absolutely it." 

Noel, also a former speechwriter for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another American sanctioned by China, noted that "if you go look at [Rubio's] Twitter bio, the very first line of the Twitter bio is [banned &] 'sanctioned by China.'"  

"It's a badge of honor, when you're not allowed to go to China," said Noel, adding sarcastically, "I'm sure Secretary Pompeo is bummed that he's gonna have to cancel his spring break plans to Wuhan or whatever."

Last August, Pompeo announced the Clean Network as "the Trump administration's comprehensive approach to guarding our citizens' privacy and our companies' most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party." The effort was meant to counteract to China's growing clout in U.S. telecommunication networks, mobile app stores, software apps, cloud computing, and undersea cables.

Noel said policies like the Clean Network are something that the Biden administration "can very easily pick up and run with, and I think the country would be better for it."

In December, following Biden's certification as winner of the November 2020 election, exiled Uyghur leader Salih Hudayar, prime minster of East Turkistan Government-in-Exile, told "Just the News AM" he was "deeply concerned" Biden would abandon Trump's support for persecuted Muslims.

Hudayar said he was afraid that Biden might adopt the "same position as the Obama administration, which is a position of just silence."

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