Omer Bekali, a former prisoner at a Chinese internment camp for the Uighur people, gets emotional while speaking during a news conference in Berlin in March. (Felipe Trueba/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock )
Will the U.S. continue to put national interest over China’s human rights violations?
  • Tue, 04/09/2019 - 20:17

By Charles Kraus
Charles Kraus is an historian at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed here are his own.
April 9 at 6:00 AM

The human rights crisis in Xinjiang, a region in northwestern China home to several Muslim minority groups, is being compared to Soviet atrocities in Ukraine and the horrors perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Upward of 1 million people from the Uighur and Kazakh ethnic groups are being forcibly held in “reeducation” camps organized by the Chinese Communist Party.

The stated goals of the party’s campaign of mass extrajudicial detentions are to provide vocational training and to reduce the threat of extremism among China’s Muslim populations. But the reality is much harsher than Chinese propaganda suggests: Survivors and escapees of the camps have offered testimony of brainwashing, torture, forced labor and even having to eat pork and drink alcohol. The culture, religious beliefs, language and identity of the Uighur people, as well as other Muslim groups affected by the camps, are under systematic attack.

The United States government is determining how to respond to this remarkable tragedy. Some members of the public are calling for the Trump administration to invoke the Global Magnitsky Act and impose financial sanctions and travel bans against the Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuse in Xinjiang. Others have suggested such a move could hurt U.S. efforts to engage China over other important issues like North Korea, trade and climate change.