WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang, a bipartisan commission of the U.S. Congress said in a report on Thursday. In addition to complicating Joe Biden’s handling of the China dossier, the finding has implications for Turkey, which harbors a large Uighur refugee population and is reportedly under pressure by Beijing to expedite an extradition treaty specifically designed for activist Uighurs in exile.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) said new evidence had emerged in the past year that “crimes against humanity – and possibly genocide – are occurring” in Xinjiang. It also accused China of harassing Uighurs in the United States.
China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills and which others have called concentration camps.
The United Nations says at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang. Faith leaders, activist groups and others have said crimes against humanity, including genocide, are taking place there.
Beijing denies the accusations and on Thursday its Washington embassy said the CECC was “obsessed with making up all sorts of lies to vilify China.”
“The so-called ‘genocide’ is a rumor deliberately started by some anti-China forces and a farce to discredit China,” an embassy spokesperson said.
The CECC report called for a formal U.S. “determination on whether atrocities are being committed” in Xinjiang, something required within 90 days of U.S. legislation passed on Dec. 27.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his final days in office before President-elect Joe Biden succeeds President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, has already been weighing a determination. But given the current turmoil in Washington, officials have played down the possibility of an announcement before that.
CECC co-chair, Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, called China’s actions to crush human rights in the past year “shocking and unprecedented” and urged Congress and the incoming Biden administration to hold Beijing accountable.
“The United States must continue to stand with the people of China in their struggle and lead the world in a united and coordinated response to the human rights abuses of the Chinese government,” he said.
Experts say a U.S. genocide determination would be an enormous embarrassment for China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
It could also pose problems for Biden by complicating his dealings with Beijing, although his campaign had already declared, before the November election, that genocide was occurring in Xinjiang.
In October, Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said Beijing was perpetrating “something close to” genocide and other officials have referred to concentration camps in Xinjiang.
Under international law, crimes against humanity are defined as widespread and systematic, whereas the burden of proof for genocide – the intent to destroy part of a population – can be more difficult to prove.
He was referring to a report about Xinjiang by German researcher Adrian Zenz, which the CECC report also cited.
Zenz said his findings represented the strongest evidence yet that Beijing’s Xinjiang policies met one of the criteria cited in the U.N. genocide convention, namely “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the (targeted) group.”
A U.S. genocide declaration would mean countries would have to think hard about allowing companies to do business with Xinjiang, a leading global supplier of cotton. It would also raise pressure for further U.S. sanctions.
On Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the United States was imposing a region-wide ban on all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations that they are made with forced labor by detained Uighurs.
Pressure on Turkey to protect Uighurs as China ratifies extradition treaty
Beijing has ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that human rights groups warn could endanger Uighur families and activists fleeing persecution by Chinese authorities if it is adopted by Ankara.
The treaty, signed in 2017, was formalised at the weekend at the National People’s Congress, with state media saying it would be used for counter-terrorism purposes. Facing strong opposition within its parliament, Turkey’s government has not yet ratified the deal, and critics have urged the government to abandon it and prevent the treaty from “becoming an instrument of persecution”.
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China’s persecution of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang has escalated in recent years, amounting to what experts have said is cultural genocide. More than 1 million people are thought to have been detained in internment camps, and there is growing evidence of re-education programmes, restrictions on religious and cultural beliefs, enforced labour schemes, mass surveillance and forced sterilisation of women.
Turkey started mass inoculation with China’s Sinovac vaccine on Thursday. But after its order for the vaccine faced delay after delay, some started to question if the country was being punished for dragging its feet in ratifying an extradition treaty it had signed with Beijing that could affect its Uighur diaspora.
The Turkish Health Ministry’s medicine regulator said on Wednesday that it has granted emergency use authorization to Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine. Mass inoculations began Thursday, starting with the elderly and health care workers.
Turkey signed a contract for 50 million doses of Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine, which should arrive by the end of February. It has so far received 3 million doses as its first batch, but only after three delays totaling around three weeks. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said a request for more was turned down by Sinovac.
President Erdogan would be put in a very difficult position, if genocide allegations find wide-spread international recognition, as the opposition will use the issue to drive a wedge between His AK Party and its partner nationalist (and pan-Turkish) MHP.