The US House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday demanding a tougher response from the Trump administration over reports of mass detention centers run by the Chinese government in Xinjiang.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which still needs to gain approval from the US Senate, calls for concrete measures to be taken against Beijing over allegations that up to two million Muslim-majority Uyghurs have been detained in “re-education” camps in the far western region.
The Chinese government reacted with fury to the proposed legislation, which Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said “wantonly smeared China’s counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts.”
“The issue that Xinjiang faces is not about ethnicity, religion or human rights. Rather, it is about fighting violence, terrorism and separatism,” Hua said in a statement Wednesday. At her daily press conference, Hua added that the US would have to pay “the due price” for any wrong actions.
“It’s impossible that it will not affect China-US relations or cooperation in important areas,” she said.
The bill, which terms the detention centers “political re-education camps,” recommends targeted sanctions on members of the Chinese government and the Communist Party, as well as bans on the sale of US-made goods to “any state agent in Xinjiang.”
The vote represents a growing consensus in Washington to take a tougher line with Beijing over allegations of human rights abuses and comes amid growing tensions between the US and China across a number of fronts.
Billions of dollars of tariffs on American and Chinese goods have been imposed by both countries in recent months, in an escalating dispute that has caused anxiety in world markets.
Both countries are currently attempting to negotiate a “phase one” deal in their yearlong trade war.
A deal had originally been suggested for December, but in London, Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said it may be delayed until after the 2020 US Presidential election in November
Having passed the US House of Representatives by a vote of 407 to 1, the Uyghur act will now head to the US Senate for approval, before being sent to Trump.
US, China tensions
The passage of the bill comes after two sets of leaked documents published by global media threw a spotlight on the mass detention of Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang.
The documents appeared to show the camps were set up under orders of the top Communist Party leadership to restrict the Uyghurs’ religion and culture practices while bringing them closer to China’s majority Han population.
The Chinese government has long maintained the camps are voluntary “vocational training centers,” which have successfully worked to secure and “de-radicalize” the region.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act is the second piece of major US legislation denouncing allegations of Chinese human rights abuses to pass the House in less than a month.
US President Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on November 27 in response to growing concerns that the city’s special freedoms were being undermined by Beijing.
In response, the Chinese government banned all US military visits to Hong Kong. Beijing has strongly condemned the US laws and accused Washington of supporting and perpetuating violence in the Asian financial hub.