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US House passes bill seeking tougher action on Uighur detentions

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Via Financial Times

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would force the Trump administration to take a tougher stance on Beijing over the mass detention of Uighurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The House voted 407-1 to approve the measure on Tuesday. It was the latest example in a number of overwhelmingly bipartisan congressional actions aimed at intensifying pressure on China over everything from its human rights abuses in Xinjiang to its stance on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

China reacted angrily to the bill, which is similar to a measure that was passed by the Senate in September. The Senate must pass the new version before the bill can be sent to Donald Trump, US president, for signing into law. The White House has not made clear whether the president would support the measure.

Once signed into law, the Trump administration would have no more than 120 days to provide Congress with a list of Chinese officials whom it “determines are responsible for or who have knowingly engaged in serious human rights abuses” against Uighurs.

The administration would then be required to impose sanctions on any officials that were included in the list. The bill would also impose restrictions on the export of technology that enables China to pursue its detention policies in Xinjiang.

The legislation specifically names Chen Quanguo, the Communist party secretary of Xinjiang since 2016 following a five-year stint in Tibet, whose appointment marked the beginning of the sweeping security clampdown.

In response to calls from Xi Jinping, China’s president, for a harder line to be taken in Xinjiang, Mr Chen launched a campaign to “round up” anyone deemed suspicious. He rapidly expanded a system of internment camps, according to leaked documents recently published by the New York Times.

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The move comes one week after Mr Trump signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation aimed at supporting the pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong who taken to the streets in recent months. China retaliated to that move by saying that it would ban US navy ships from making port calls in the territory and placing restrictions on some American non-governmental organisations.

Two senior members of the Senate foreign relations committee — Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bob Menendez — welcomed the bill’s passage as “an important step” in countering China’s human rights abuses.

“The Chinese government and Communist party is working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uighurs,” said Mr Rubio, adding that he would push for passage in the Senate. “Today, Congress took another important step to hold Chinese officials accountable for egregious and ongoing human rights abuses.”

Mr Mendendez, the top Democrat on the foreign relations committee, said it was “recognition that the US government cannot afford to stand idly by as millions of Uyghur Muslims continue to be unjustly imprisoned, subjected to a mass surveillance state, and forced into labour camps by an autocratic regime”.

China has denied that it is subjecting hundreds of thousands of Uighurs to mass detention. It says it is operating voluntary vocational camps — a claim that has been widely dismissed by human rights groups. Recently leaked Chinese Communist party documents have also undermined the denials.

Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, in October said the US would impose visa restrictions of Chinese government officials connected to the detention of Uighurs, and accused Beijing pursuing a “highly repressive campaign”.

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The Uighur bill underscores the growing anti-China mood in Washington over everything from human rights to business practices to espionage.

Those concerns, which were growing even before Mr Trump took office, have increased at the same time that the president is trying to reach a trade deal with Beijing.

Speaking in London on Tuesday, Mr Trump suggested that he was prepared to wait until a second term to seal a deal with China. But he has on other occasions signalled that he was close to striking a trade deal.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo and Christian Shepherd on Twitter: @dimi and @cdcshepherd

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