Congress overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday aimed at pressuring China over a brutal mass crackdown on ethnic Muslims in the far west of the country, legislation that follows a similar measure over human rights abuses in Hong Kong that angered the Chinese government.
The House of Representatives voted 407-1 to approve the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which has already passed the Senate.
China protested the US bill early Wednesday.
The legislation condemns the detention of more than 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities in so-called reeducation camps, where they are subjected to political indoctrination, torture, beatings, and food deprivation, as well as denial of religious and linguistic freedom.
It would require the State Department to evaluate whether Chinese officials would meet the criteria for sanctions for their roles in the crackdown in the Xinjian region.
“The Chinese Government and Communist Party is working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the backers of the legislation. “Today, Congress took another important step to hold Chinese officials accountable for egregious and ongoing human rights abuses.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement Wednesday that the US is using the Xinjiang issue to sow discord in Chinese ethnic relations and undermine the prosperity and stability of the far west region, home to the predominantly Muslim Uighur and Kazakh minority groups.
“Xinjiang-related issues are simply not issues of human rights, ethnicity or religion, but rather an issue of anti-terrorism and anti-separatism,” Hua said. “These measures have ensured that no terrorist attacks have occurred in Xinjiang in the past three years, received the universal support of the 2.5 million people of various ethnic groups in Xinjiang and made positive contributions to global efforts against terrorism.”
Hua urged the US to “immediately correct its mistakes” and warned that China will respond accordingly.
Last month, Congress passed - and President Donald Trump signed - legislation supporting anti-government protests in Hong Kong. China said Monday that it will suspend US military ship and aircraft visits to the semi-autonomous city and sanction several American pro-democracy and human rights groups in response to the move.