The United States has officially designated China's persecution of Muslim minorities in western Xinjiang Province — including mass internment, forced labor, and forced sterilization — as "genocide" and "crimes against humanity."
“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement released Tuesday.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said, adding that the CCP — which he described as a “Marxist-Leninist regime that exerts power over the long-suffering Chinese people through brainwashing and brute force” — is "engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group."
Pompeo made the determination just one day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, making the U.S. the first country to adopt these terms to describe the CCP’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
In his statement, Pompeo called on other countries to follow suit in denouncing China’s actions.
“We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future.”
Johnnie Moore, the president of the Congress of Christian Leaders who also serves on the congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called the designation a “fitting, parting shot from an [sic] historic Secretary of State.”
“This is a determination everyone — Democrat or Republican — ought to agree with,” he tweeted. “Religious Freedom must remain the beating heart of American foreign policy. It’s also high time the Europeans step up…”
USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative advocacy group Family Research Council, also praised the move.
"The goal is clear: Chinese officials want to reduce the Uyghur population in China by whatever means necessary," Perkins said in a statement. "The sad reality is that while the rest of the world has been focused on containing the coronavirus, Chinese communists appear to have ramped up the persecution of anyone the government perceives is a threat."
“While the word ‘genocide’ alone won’t stop the suffering, it will certainly go a long way to sparking the desperately needed actions that can bring help and hope to all those suffering under the communist regime," Perkins added. “The way forward is to continue spotlighting these flagrant abuses of religious freedom and international human rights laws and demand the rest of the world hold China accountable."
Previous reports from U.S. officials and human rights groups found that China has imprisoned more than 1 million people, including Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, in tightly-controlled concentration camps in Xinjiang, where they are taught to be secular citizens who will never oppose the ruling Communist Party.
There, prisoners are subjected to torture, sterilization, and political indoctrination in addition to forced labor.
A recent report documented how hospitals in Xinjiang were ordered to abort and kill all babies born in excess of China’s mandated family planning limits — including newborns born after being carried to full term. The orders were part of strict family-planning policies intended to restrict Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to three children.
Nury Turkel, a Uyghur American attorney born in Xinjiang and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, revealed that forced labor has been “part of Uyghur life” for as long as he can remember.
“It’s one of the methods, one of the vehicles the Chinese used to repress the Uyghur religion and Uyghur culture,” he said. "When you buy anything made in China, if it's a textile cotton product, I think it should be something that gives you pause. As a consumer, please do your due diligence. Please stop at least buying any cotton or textile products coming from China ... this should be something easy to tackle.”
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, said that the tactics used against Uyghur Muslims represent the “cutting edge of religious persecution."
Though they live in a remote region, China is employing its “most aggressive technology” to oppress Uyghurs, including sophisticated cameras, facial-recognition technology, and collecting DNA samples, Brownback said.
“They've got technology deployed now where they've got surveillance cameras virtually everywhere in the public,” he noted. “They've collected genetic data on most of the people in the region to where you can be tracked on the internet, they have facial recognition systems. They could now theoretically close all the concentration camps and you would still live in a virtual police state if you were a Uyghur in Xinjiang.”
Christian leaders have repeatedly condemned the persecution of Uyghur Muslims. In September, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said that the crimes being perpetrated against religious minorities in China and elsewhere rely on invisibility “where the rest of the world doesn't pay attention” and “tribalism.”
“The way of Jesus Christ says that we pay attention to our neighbor on the side of the road who is persecuted, who is being beaten,” he said. “So let's pray for the Uyghur [and] for other persecuted peoples. Let's pray not just individually, but together, and pray for them by name.”
“Let's be the people who stand up for whoever is being made invisible, whoever is being intimidated and bullied in our own neighborhoods and in our own communities because we're the people of Jesus Christ.”