Members of the Uyghur diaspora in the U.S. and Canada have called on U.S. President Donald Trump to immediately enact sanctions against Chinese officials complicit in rights abuses in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under legislation he signed last week.
A group of some 60 Uyghurs gathered in front of the White House on Sunday holding signs applauding Trump’s June 17 enactment of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA), which passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress last month.
The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR—home to a three-year-old program of internment camps holding as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslims.
In addition to condemning the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the camps, the new law requires regular monitoring of conditions by U.S. government bodies for the application of sanctions to top officials such as XUAR party chief Chen Quanguo. It also addresses Chinese government harassment of Uyghurs living in the United States.
The Uyghurs chanted slogans that included “sanctions now” and were joined in solidarity by nearly a dozen members of their ethnic group staging a similar rally in front of the U.S. Embassy in Toronto, Canada.
Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Elfidar Hanim, the general secretary of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association (UAA) exile group, said that in addition to expressing their appreciation to the U.S. government for passing the act, Uyghurs at the rally “are also requesting this legislation be implemented as soon as possible.”
“The common wish of Uyghurs in the U.S. and around the world is to sanction Uyghur Autonomous Region party secretary Chen Quanguo and deputy secretary Zhu Hailun, who launched the policy of internment camps against the Uyghur people,” she said.
“We definitely want to let the U.S. government know that this is part of our request during this Thank You Rally.”
Observers have questioned why Trump has yet to bring sanctions under the new law, particularly in light of allegations made public on the same day that he signed it by former national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton said the president told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping he approved of China’s construction of its camp network amidst negotiations on a trade agreement. According to Bolton, Trump “pleaded” with Xi to help ensure he was re-elected in 2020.
Trump later told the Wall Street Journal that signing the UHRPA proved that he would not back down to China and called Bolton a “liar.”
Under the UHRPA, Chinese officials such as Chen deemed responsible for persecution in the XUAR could see any assets in the U.S. frozen and be subjected to visa restrictions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, crafted initially to deal with rights abuses in Russia.
However, the act provides significant leeway for Trump to withhold sanctions if he believes doing so would run counter to U.S. interests. His administration already has the ability to sanction Chinese officials over rights abuses and has chosen not to do so, amidst fears that it could derail the implementation of a long-stalled U.S.-China trade deal.
In an Oval Office interview on Friday afternoon, Trump told Axios that he had held off on imposing Treasury sanctions against Chinese officials involved with the internment camps because doing so would have interfered with his trade deal with Beijing.
“When you're in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on—we've done a lot,” he said, adding that he had “put tariffs on China, which are far worse than any sanction you can think of.”
Trump also said he had not pursued sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act because “nobody’s asked me,” but suggested he would “take a look at it” if someone did.
Reported by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.