Congress Discusses US Reaction to Chinese “Authoritarianism”

December 13, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
An Uyghur woman walks along an area of reconstruction in Kashgar, China. Many homes in the old urban district of Kashgar are being reconstructed, and many have been raised to build a new park. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

WASHINGTON – Civil rights leaders and members of Congress urged that tougher policies be adopted to oppose human rights abuses in China and Hong Kong during a congressional hearing earlier this week.

They accused China of mass incarceration of political prisoners, interrogations of private citizens who committed no crimes and “surveillance state” tactics that trample innocent persons’ privacy.

So far, “the collective international response has done little to hold China accountable,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for the civil rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

“Quite simply, China should not be allowed to get away with human rights violations of this scope and scale,” Richardson said in her testimony for the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation.

The subcommittee is considering legislation that would blacklist Chinese companies and trade associated with the alleged abuses. It could include corporations that supply surveillance equipment to China’s military and police.

Much of the testimony during the hearing focused on the Uyghurs, an ethnic minority in China whose members include many Muslims. They are located primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang region.

Human rights advocates estimate that since 2016, more than a million Uyghurs have been detained in Chinese re-education camps. The main goal of the camps is to ensure the Uyghurs adhere to Chinese Communist Party ideology, according to government documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The inmates are involuntarily detained for at least one year, depending on their performance on Chinese ideology tests. Their communication with family is limited to one phone call per week. The United Nations has estimated as many as one in every 10 Uyghurs is being detained in re-education camps.

The Chinese government justifies the re-education camps as an attempt to combat extremism and terrorism sometimes associated with Islam.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch reverse-engineered an app used by Chinese police and government officials in Xinjiang for surveillance.

“Our research into the app revealed that the authorities consider many ordinary and legal behaviors, such as ‘not socializing with neighbors,’ ‘often avoiding using the front door,’ using WhatsApp, or simply being related to someone who has obtained a new phone number, as suspicious,” Richardson said. “The app then flags such people for interrogation, some of whom are then sent to Xinjiang’s political education camps.”

The House recently approved a bill called the Uyghur Human Rights Act. It would require U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor and report to Congress on Chinese human rights abuses against the Uyghurs. It also would call on the president to impose sanctions on Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary.

The bill is awaiting action in the Senate. Nevertheless, the Chinese government already is condemning it as an attempt to undermine its security efforts.

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a Minnesota Republican, said Americans should stop buying Chinese products because of the government’s human rights record. He suggested switching to products made in Taiwan.

He said China’s economic dominance allowed it to continue human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan.

Yoho said American manufacturers should institute an “ABC policy” in which they have their products made “anywhere but China.”

“I’m happy to support the country of Taiwan over supporting a Communist regime that I know is not looking out for human rights,” he added.

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