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Trump signs bill for sanctions on China officials over Uighurs

(Al Jazeera, June 18, 2020)

President Donald Trump signed legislation on Wednesday calling for sanctions against those responsible for the repression of Uighur Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, the White House said in a statement.

The bill, which passed the US Congress with only a single ‘no’ vote, was intended to send China a strong message on human rights by mandating sanctions against those responsible for the oppression of members of China’s Muslim minority.

The United Nations estimates that more than one million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang that China says are vocational skills training centres and necessary to tackle extremism.

China’s foreign ministry said the US law was a malicious attack.

“We again urge the US side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop using this Xinjiang-related law to harm China’s interests and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Otherwise China will resolutely take countermeasures, and all the consequences arising therefrom must be fully borne by the United States.”

Trump issued a “signing statement” alongside the law, saying that some of the sanctions’ requirements might limit his constitutional authority as president to conduct diplomacy so he would regard them as advisory rather than mandatory.

Trump did not hold a ceremony to mark his signing the bill into law, which came as US newspapers published excerpts from a new book by his former national security adviser, John Bolton.

Among other allegations in the book, Bolton said Trump spoke approvingly of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s explanation of “why he was basically building concentration camps” to intern Uighurs during a G20 meeting in Osaka in 2019 that was attended only by interpreters.

Bolton wrote that the US interpreter said that Trump spoke approvingly of the camps. Bolton added that he had also been told by Matt Pottinger, a National Security Council official who is hawkish on China, that Trump had said something similar during a 2017 trip to China.

The Uighur law calls for sanctions on Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary, Chen Quanguo, who is also a member of the powerful Politburo, for “gross human rights violations”. It also calls on US companies with operations in Xinjiang to take steps to ensure their supply chains are free from forced labour.

The World Uyghur Congress, one of the main Uighur exile groups, welcomed Trump’s move to sign the bill into law, saying “it gave hope to the desperate Uighur people.”

Giorgio Borsa

The Founder of Asia Maior

Università di Pavia

The "Cesare Bonacossa" Centre for the Study of Extra-European Peoples


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