The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill requiring a tougher response from the Trump administration to China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including sanctions on officials responsible for abuses.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was passed 407-1 in the Democratic Party-controlled House, requires U.S. President Donald Trump to condemn Chinese abuses in Xinjiang and call for the closure of mass detention camps where authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.
The legislation, which passed the Senate in September, calls for sanctions on XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, seen as the architect of the mass internment policy. An amended version of the bill still has to be approved by the Senate before being sent to Trump.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project, an advocacy group, applauded the vote and urged swift enactment of the bill, which it called “an important signal to Beijing that the international community is not ignoring the crimes against humanity taking place in East Turkestan.”
“We are grateful to both the Senate and the House for demonstrating strong bipartisan cooperation in addressing the agony of the Uyghurs,” said UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat.
“Each and every speech on the House floor tonight was a forceful indictment of crimes against humanity. Tonight’s action gives Uyghurs hope,” he said in a statement.
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, who introduced an earlier version of the bill in January, said they hoped to get the bill to Trump’s desk soon.
“The Chinese Government and Communist Party is working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Today, Congress took another important step to hold Chinese officials accountable for egregious and ongoing human rights abuses committed against the Uyghurs,” Rubio said in a statement.
Menendez called Tuesday’s vote “recognition that the U.S. government cannot afford to stand idly by as millions of Uyghur Muslims continue to be unjustly imprisoned, subjected to a mass surveillance state, and forced into labor camps by an autocratic regime.”
“Uyghurs deserve justice for the barbaric and abhorrent acts they have been forced to endure, and I am committed to working with my colleagues to get a final bill on the president’s desk as quickly as we can,” he added.
In Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying issued a statement saying said Xinjiang is China’s internal affair and urging the U.S. to stop the bill from becoming law.
Trump angered Beijing last week when he signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in a show of support for Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests. China announced sanctions on U.S. NGOs in response to the Hong Kong legislation, which mandates monitoring of the level of civil rights and autonomy of the former British colony.