The State Department is declaring that Chinese government continues to engage in genocide and crimes against humanity through the repression of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in western China.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the assertion in introducing the department’s annual assessment of global religious freedom on Wednesday.
“China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minority groups,” Mr. Blinken said.
The annual report outlines widespread abuses by the Chinese government against the estimated 200 million religious believers, including Christian, Muslims and Buddhists.
Despite Wednesday’s assertion by Mr. Blinken, the annual report said the department is reviewing the genocide designation that was announced earlier this year by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The review is an indication that the Biden administration is still weighing whether to back away from the label that has drawn intense criticism from the Chinese government, which denies that its actions amount to genocide.
While the review issue remains unresolved, the State Department has said crimes carried out by the Chinese government in China‘s western Xinjiang province include mass imprisonment, forced sterilizations, torture, forced labor and draconian restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of movement.
Since April 2017, the U.S. government estimates Chinese authorities have detained more than 1 million Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, and some Christians, in internment camps and converted detention facilities.
The repression has been carried out by Chinese authorities under the guise of national counterterrorism law and a regional counter-extremism policy, according to Wednesday’s report.
Mr. Blinken also announced Wednesday that the State Department is sanctioning a Chinese Communist Party official in the Chengdu area of Sichuan Province for committing “gross violations of human rights” against the anti-communist Buddhist religious group Falun Gong.
Daniel Nadel, the State Department official in charge of religious freedom, also said during a briefing for reporters that China‘s genocide continues against Uyghurs, asserting that the human rights situation in Xinjiang “remains dire.”
Mr. Nadel said evidence of abuses includes testimony from survivors of repression, as well as Chinese documents outlining how the government planned to build concentration camps for Uyghurs and how they intend to “manage these populations.”
“At the end of the day it is absolutely clear what horrors are taking place in Xinjiang,” he said. “And we will continue to speak out.”
Chinese authorities initially created a network of camps in Xinjiang that were used to detain and “re-educate” Uyghurs.
“What the [Chinese] government is doing now is it has turned Xinjiang into an open-air camp,” said Mr. Nadel. “They’ve essentially turned the entire region into an open-air prison.”
People under suspicion by the Chinese authorities are tracked electronically or have “minders” assigned to monitor their activities. Uyghurs, specifically, are required to sign in before going to a market.
Mr. Nadel said the Chinese government has shifted from its previous position of “outright denial” about the genocide to attempting to justify the activities as an internal security issue.
“Of course, the world isn’t buying it,” he said, noting Beijing has realized the genocide cannot be denied or papered over.
Chinese propaganda has gone into overdrive in recent months with stories in state media attempting to show Uyghurs as happy and content.
Asked if the United States would boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics over the genocide issue next year, Mr. Nadel said the department is reviewing policy options and messaging related to the games, as well as consulting Congress and allies.
Currently, the U.S. government’s reaction to Xinjiang repression has been to sanction Chinese officials. “When we find the perpetrators we’ll continue to hold them accountable under U.S. law,” said Mr. Nadel.
Mr. Pompeo, meanwhile, argued while serving as secretary of state under former President Trump, that Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang are “an extreme affront to the Uyghurs, the people of China, and civilized people everywhere.”
“If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future,” Mr. Pompeo said at the time.
In Hong Kong, where China last year imposed a draconian national security law, religious freedom is threatened but so far has not been undermined by mainland authorities, according to Wednesday’s report.
The report warned that the future of religious freedom in the former British colony is endangered by the new Beijing-appointed chief of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, who led a 2014 campaign of repression against churches in China’s Zhejiang Province.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party constitution nominally permits freedom of religion but limits practicing faith to unspecified “normal” activities. Additionally, all party members and People’s Liberation Army troops must be atheists and are prohibited from engaging in religious practices.
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