Human rights groups say up to 2 million people, mostly Muslims, have been detained in sprawling fortified camps set up in Xinjiang since 2017, where they are said to have been subjected to political indoctrination and ill-treatment. China has consistently denied such allegations, arguing that the Xinjiang camp system is needed to tackle religious extremism and terrorism.
While Washington has previously sanctioned officials over Xinjiang and blocked some forced labor imports, Tuesday’s declaration officially used the term genocide for the first time.
According to the UN, genocide is “the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
; The declaration, while not imposing automatic penalties, marks a rare step for the US government, which has historically shown some hesitation in joining the definition of genocide to an ongoing crisis.
And the new Biden administration will fall, which supports defining the situation in Xinjiang as genocide in order to take action on the issue or fall in the face of an aggressive Beijing that is trying to force a “reset” on its terms.
Pompeo’s choice to make the Xinjiang Declaration at the last possible minute, in an action that was largely lost in the drama of the presidential transition, has disappointed many human rights researchers and human rights activists who have long argued for such a definition.
“Don’t credit Trump’s architects with a chaotic Chinese gesture policy that they have been opposing for the first time in years,” Xinjiang’s historian James Milward wrote in a Twitter thread condemning what he called “hypocrisy.” Pompeo on this.
Milward pointed out that the Trump administration has blocked repeated attempts by Congress to take action against Xinjiang, both in 2018 and in 2019, as the president has struck a trade deal with China while Pompeo has tried to take credit. to expose atrocities uncovered by journalists and researchers “years before Trump turned his” good friend “.”
More than anything else, Pompeo’s latest shot through Beijing’s nose seems to be an attempt to tie the hands of the incoming administration.
“The noise of restrictions and sanctions imposed (on China) in recent months by the Trump administration (aims) to make it politically impossible or technically difficult for the incoming administration to resign,” said Scott Kennedy, a Chinese analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. , wrote this week. “Understanding how to manage this legacy will be the new administration’s main foreign policy challenge.”
But while the new name could potentially complicate Biden’s relationship with Beijing, it could also provide a source of leverage. Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, said he agreed with the definition of “genocide”.
Reset with conditions
Beijing is seeking to influence Biden’s policies by talking about a restart, while signaling potential consequences if he continues with his predecessor’s hawkish stance on China.
Chinese state media have been celebrating the end of the Trump administration in recent days.
Hours before Trump left the White House for the last time, the state-run Xinhua news agency published an image of the US Congress in English with the words, “Good rescue, Donald Trump!”
Also Wednesday, China imposed new sanctions on Pompeo and several other former Trump officials who, according to Beijing, “planned, encouraged and carried out a series of insane moves that seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, and insulted China.” people and seriously disrupted Sino-US relations. “
The measures ban former employees “and members of their close families” from entering China, Hong Kong and Macao, and prohibit “companies and related institutions” from doing business with China. This could prevent those sanctioned from taking lucrative post-administrative roles with think tanks or consulting firms focused on China, a consideration Beijing may hope will influence incoming Biden officials against taking strong positions on these issues. questions.
Speaking Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunin accused “Pompeo and other anti-Chinese, anti-communist forces” of encouraging “various misunderstandings on Xinjiang issues.”
As a major Chinese hawk in the Trump administration who has drawn criticism of Beijing over Hong Kong as well as Xinjiang, Pompeo is a figure of disgust at Chinese diplomats and tightly controlled state media in the country, who released several stories in the Trump administration over the past week welcoming its recent release.
In a piece before Biden’s inauguration, Xinhua said that “one of the most important bilateral relations in the world is at a critical crossroads.”
“Whether Sino-US relations could return to the right path depends on the new US administration,” Xinhua said, adding that Washington should “use new opportunities for cooperation” on issues such as climate change while avoiding “red lines.” “such as increasing commitment to the democratic and de facto independent island of Taiwan.
“President Biden has repeatedly emphasized the word unity in his inaugural speech,” spokeswoman Hua said on Thursday. “I think that’s exactly what current Sino-US relations need. Because in the last four years, some anti-Chinese politicians in the United States have told too many lies and incited too much hatred and division of personal gain.”
An early challenge
The way the Biden administration is dealing with the Xinjiang issue can be a major test of this relationship. If Blinken is serious about maintaining the definition of his predecessor, then it is likely to have to be followed by additional sanctions or some kind of international action, otherwise Washington risks recognizing the continuing genocide and being prepared as it happens.
But international action could be undermined by the way Pompeo made the declaration.
“The declaration that genocide is taking place in a foreign country is a political act, not a legal finding, and therefore its impact depends entirely on the reputation and credibility of the speaker,” said Kate Cronin-Furman, a human rights assistant at University College London. week. “Pompeo announced his determination at perhaps the worst moment imaginable (with the United States), given the absolute oversight of his position in the international community.”
Nor has the wider international community been quick to act on this issue.
Last month, the European Union focused on signing an investment deal with China, despite concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and active lobbying against some of Biden’s incoming officials.
“The stories coming out of Xinjiang are pure horror. The story in Brussels is that we are ready to sign an investment agreement with China,” MEP Guy Verhofstadt said at the time, shaking the alleged promises of forced labor contained in the deal. “Under these circumstances, any Chinese signature on human rights is not worth the paper on which it is written.”
British lawmakers who tried to prevent their government from pursuing more trade with China were also disappointed. This week, the country’s parliament defeated an attempt to limit agreements with countries identified as genocide, a measure aimed directly at China. While campaign participants pledged to continue the fight in the House of Lords, Pompeo’s statement, which came in the middle of the debate, ultimately did not shake the majority of MPs.
Biden could have more influence in both Brussels and London than Trump ever did, and he certainly spoke of the need to restore America’s international position after four years. But whether he is using his position to lobby for action against Xinjiang, or a tougher line on China as a whole, remains to be seen.