China officials threatened swift retaliation against the United States Tuesday after the House passed legislation that would punish Beijing for its mass internment of Muslim ethnic minorities.
The legislation comes amid increasing congressional scrutiny of China’s human rights abuses, against democracy protesters in Hong Kong and against the nearly 1 million Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim population who have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned in “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang region.
The House bill, which passed by a 406-1 vote Tuesday night, calls for sanctions on China for its treatment of the Uighurs and a U.S. assessment of the human rights abuses committed by Communist Party officials, including the public naming of Chinese and foreign companies complicit in the mass internment.
“The Uighur people and other Muslim minorities face brutal repression,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said before Tuesday’s vote. She noted they have been subject to pervasive surveillance, mass incarceration with reports of torture, and other horrific atrocities.
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, noted that the so-called re-education camps have been compared to concentration camps.
“The goal of the Chinese government is to strip these individuals of their religious and cultural identity,” McCaul said. “Many people detained are never heard from again. Families have been torn apart. Sons and daughters are left wondering if they will ever be reunited with their moms and dads.”
A similar bill has already passed the Senate; the two chambers will now have to reconcile the two measures before sending a final measure to the White House.
Lawmakers have shown an increasing willingness to push the Trump administration to stand up to China on human rights issues, particularly in Hong Kong as that city has been gripped for months by demonstrations against what they view as China’s encroachment on their autonomy.
Last week, President Donald Trump recently signed legislation requiring a review of Hong Kong’s special treatment under U.S. law, including trade rules that have helped elevate the city to a global financial power. The Hong Kong democracy measure will also require the Trump administration to impose sanctions on individuals deemed responsible for arbitrary detention, torture, or forced confession of people in Hong Kong.
China slammed Trump’s decision “serious interference in China’s internal affairs” and threatened countermeasures – warning it would undermine cooperation with Washington amid delicate trade talks.
The Chinese government offered a similar response on Tuesday after the House vote, condemning the legislation as a “smear” against what it called a “counter-terrorism” effort against the Uyghurs.
“China will respond according to the situation,” reported a state-controlled Chinese newspaper Tuesday.