Bill to boost US businesses includes new protections for China’s Uyghurs

The legislation would create a special coordinator to monitor the minority group’s rights.
By Alim Seytoff
Bill to boost US businesses includes new protections for China’s Uyghurs A Uyghur protester participates in 'Resist CCP: Global Day of Action' in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, Oct. 1, 2020.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday released a wide-ranging bill intended to support the U.S. tech industry while also confronting China on human rights abuses, including the persecution of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region.

The legislation, which is titled the America COMPETES Act, would spend at least $52 billion to increase domestic production of semiconductors and address vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain, which some economists blame in part for rising inflation.

The roughly 2,900-page measure, a collection of previously introduced bills, also contains a number of foreign policy provisions, including language pertaining to China’s treatment of Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Hongkongers.

For example, it would impose new sanctions on China for its mistreatment of Uyghurs and provide refugee protection for Uyghurs and Hongkongers persecuted by their government. The bill also seeks to strengthen U.S. relations with Taiwan.

“America COMPETES builds a foundation for America to succeed for decades to come, not just in our competition with the PRC [People’s Republic of China], but in our fight for a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world,” U.S. Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The U.S. has already said China’s violence against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang constitutes genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. imposed a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in a show of opposition to the host country’s dismal human rights record.

The bill introduced this week would create a special envoy for Uyghur issues who would be responsible for coordinating the government’s response to “the gross violations of universally recognized human rights occurring in Xinjiang,” the bill states.

The violations include the mass detentions of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and the deployment of advanced surveillance systems and police detection methods that undermine basic rights in the region, the bill says.

Its text also includes a reference to the Uyghur journalists working for RFA who have been punished by the Chinese government and seen some family members imprisoned in Xinjiang.

“Congress finds that the People’s Republic of China maintains one of the worst media environments in the world and seeks to curtail political speech inside and outside the country, including by ... seeking to intimidate American-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia and reporting on gross human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by jailing or otherwise harassing members of their families,” the bill says.

There was no immediate response to the bill’s text from the Chinese government.

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based Uyghur rights advocacy group, welcomed the bill’s release.

“The passage of the act will help stop China’s ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs,” he told RFA. “The Uyghur Genocide has been ongoing for the past five years. And China hasn’t changed its intentions on committing the genocide.”

Isa also said that the passage of the bill would help resettle Uyghur refugees in many countries “living under the thumb of China and worrying for their safety” and that the appointment of the special envoy would help prioritize the U.S. response to the Uyghur genocide and eventually stop it.

Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights project in Washington, said his organization hoped that the appointment of a special envoy to coordinate the response would “wake up the rest of the international community that has so far been silent.”

Two decades ago, the U.S. Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 established a special coordinator for Tibetan issues within the State Department to promote dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government and push to protect the human rights and “fundamental freedoms” of the Tibetan people.

In December 2021, the Biden administration appointed veteran diplomat Uzra Zeya as the new coordinator, prompting a warning from Beijing for the U.S. to keep out of its internal affairs.

The U.S. has taken other legislative measures against China for its rights violations against the Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.

In 2020, Congress passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which sanctions Chinese officials who are found to responsible for arbitrary incarceration, forced labor and other abuses in Xinjiang. The same year, the House of Representatives also passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which requires U.S. publicly listed companies to review and actively audit supply chains for forced labor.

In December 2021, U.S. lawmakers passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to block the importing of goods produced by forced labor in Xinjiang.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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