U.S. says China is committing ‘genocide’ against Uyghurs

Foreign Affairs

The declaration by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was undermined by his tweet, a few hours earlier, condemning “multiculturalism” in the U.S.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, U.S., January 12, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

In the final days of the Trump administration, U.S. officials are engaging in a final barrage of policy announcements about China. These include a further tightening of export controls to Huawei, and orders from President Trump to assess security risks from Chinese-made drones and limit procurement of Chinese goods and services. These follow moves last week, including the blacklisting of several major Chinese companies and a last-minute change in policy on ties with Taiwan

The biggest announcement was saved for last, as the U.S. State Department released a long-anticipated statement, titled, Determination of the Secretary of State on Atrocities in Xinjiang. In it, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of two grave violations:

  • Crimes against humanity: That “since at least March 2017,” China has arbitrarily imprisoned and repressed vast numbers of Uyghurs and “other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” 
  • Genocide: That “we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.” 

Though the statement contains a few signature Communist-bashing flourishes from Pompeo — claiming credit for having “exposed the nature” of a “Marxist-Leninist regime,” and warning that if Beijing isn’t held to account, the entire “free world” could be at threat — it largely focuses on well-documented human rights abuses. (Read more in the 2021 SupChina Red Paper.)

Pompeo’s message is undermined, however, by what one could politely call a “dubious legacy” as Secretary of State, and his stream of self-promoting tweets, including one today that ironically condemned “multiculturalism.” 

Joe Biden, who will assume the U.S. presidency tomorrow, is already months ahead of Pompeo: Last August, he released a statement calling China’s persecution of the Uyghurs “genocide,” and said that he “stands against it in the strongest terms.” His nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, today said that he supports the assessment that China is committing genocide.