Washington: President Donald Trump signed a measure punishing Chinese officials for imprisoning more than one million Muslims on the same day a new book alleged Trump encouraged Beijing to build internment camps to house them.
The legislation — signed by Trump on Wednesday after winning broad bipartisan support in Congress — requires Trump to sanction any officials found responsible for oppression of Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups and revoke their visas.
Signing the bill marks a shift for Trump, who has been reluctant in the past to act against China over human rights. Beijing on Thursday threatened to retaliate if the U.S. were to move ahead with the bill, without offering further details.
“We urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistakes, and stop using the bill to damage China’s interests and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. “Otherwise China will resolutely take countermeasures.”
The bill has “revealed its malicious attempts to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, to sow discord among China’s ethnic groups, to destabilize Xinjiang and to contain China’s development,” the ministry said.
The legislation continues an escalation of tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Trump has blamed Beijing over the spread of the coronavirus, calling it the “plague from China.” The Trump administration has also faulted China over the country’s move to pass national security legislation expected to curb freedoms in Hong Kong.
Also on Wednesday, excerpts from the book by Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton were published, saying Trump had told Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2019 that he should go ahead with building camps in Xinjiang province to hold the Uighur people, a minority ethnic group who are mostly Muslim, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang,” according to a book excerpt in the Journal. “According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the legislation “sends a clear message to the government of China that we are well aware” of abuse Uighurs have suffered.
Trump and China have traded insults and blame for the coronavirus pandemic, which began in the Chinese province of Hubei. But the illness has killed more than 117,000 Americans, far more deaths than China has reported, and Trump has sought to shift blame to Beijing as he his administration’s handling of the crisis has come under intense criticism.
The human rights measure passed the House last month on a vote of 413-1 and passed the Senate by unanimous consent. It condemns the internment of Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China. The legislation calls for closing the camps where they are being held.
China has said it’s fighting separatism and religious extremism among Uighurs. It has threatened similar retaliation against the U.S. in the past without taking any action.
Before the pandemic, Trump had been loath to denounce China in order to preserve his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his trade deal with the country. Trump, for example, only offered lukewarm support for pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong last year as the deal was being negotiated. –Bloomberg
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