Where Will The State Department Take Uyghur Genocide Claims Next?

The State Department may officially designate the situation of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang China as genocide. What happens from there is unclear, but it would be a headwind for anyone manufacturing in that far western Chinese province.

The plight of Uyghur Muslims in the West China province of Xinjiang got another spotlight shone on it this week when a 55 page report outlining both the real prison and the open-air prison they are subject to was called officially sanctioned “genocide”.

The report, by DC based Newlines Institute says that China is exhibiting an “intent to destroy” the Uyghur population, which makes its actions genocidal under Article II of the UN Genocide Convention.

In 2014, Xi Jinping, launched the “People’s War on Terror” in Xinjiang, majority populated by Uyghurs – who are considered a minority in China, where the dominant ethnic group is the Hans. The move followed a terrorist attack at the time and China used that as an excuse to build out a network of re-education camps. There has been an independence movement among the ethnic groups in Xinjiang for years. To lower their numbers, China has used forced sterilization of Uyghur women. The birth rate dropped by around 30% between 2017-2018, something Beijing says is because more women are now taking birth control.

High-level officials followed up with orders to “wipe them out completely…destroy them root and branch,” and “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.” Officials described Uyghurs with dehumanizing terms and repeatedly likened the mass internment of Uyghurs to “eradicating tumors”, something that sounds awfully close to an official policy of genocide.

People live under constant surveillance in urban areas of Xinjiang. Thousands of high-definition cameras, connected to centralized high-tech command locations, are also wired up throughout villages, mosques, and key intersections in cities.

Between 2016 and 2018, individual cities in Xinjiang alone spent around $46 million on surveillance tech, with one county forcing mosques to install facial recognition cameras, report authors wrote.

It is believed that over a million Uyghur men are held in detention centers, or as Beijing calls them, “re-education camps”.

The Newlines report examined the legal question of whether China bears responsibility for breaches of Article II of the Genocide Convention. And whether China is committing genocide as it is defined in that rule. For the 50 international lawyers behind the study, citing China’s own statistics on the matter, China is breaking every provision of Article II.

Uyghur advocacy groups tried getting the International Criminal Court to go after China for genocide, but they rejected the case in December because China is not a signatory to the Hague-based ICC. China is, however, a signatory nation to the UN Convention on Genocide.

While most people equate genocide to mass killings, “a large number of deaths” have occurred with the detention centers, according to the Xinjiang Victims Database, sourced by Newlines Institute. People who report such deaths can receive lengthy prison sentences. There is at least one confirmed report of mass deaths within an internment camp, and newly built crematoria in the region indicate that authorities may be concealing the overall number of deaths and torture within the camps.

Here’s the full report.

In one of his last power moves, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued sanctions on individuals in the CCP and said Xinjiang was undergoing genocide.

Days later, key members of the Biden transition team and Pompeo’s replacement, Anthony Blinken, said about the genocide call that, “that would be my judgement as well.”

Someone had made the call to Washington to ask for a review of Pompeo’s position on genocide and now Blinken is doing just that.

But according to a Reuters article on March 9, the State Department is unlikely to reverse that claim. “We have seen nothing that would change our assessment,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Breaches of the Genocide Convention are determined by the rules of general international law on treaty interpretation and the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts. No specific penalties or punishments are laid out in the Convention for states or governments determined to have committed genocide. But the Newlines report said that under the Convention, the other 151 signatories have a responsibility to act.

Over the last several months, the US Department of Homeland Security, led by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have utilized that agency’s powers to withhold some items imported from Xinjiang companies. Blinken has said that those decisions “are the least we can do.”

Late last year, the CBP issued a Withhold Released Order on all tomato products and cotton sourced from Xinjiang, which is believed to have forced some companies to remap their supply chains out of Xinjiang or risk having their goods held captive at US ports.

However, the WRO orders, while now moving from company specific bans due to forced labor of Uyghurs to a more product-driven ban in the case of tomatoes and cotton, has its short-comings in forcing change from corporate supply chain managers. And even less of an impact on Beijing.

A Government Accountability Office report released this month assessing WROs said that the diplomatic corps think the current CBP methods, while endorsed by their boss, Anthony Blinken, is too much of a “sledgehammer-type” approach. The foreign service types told the GAO they would prefer “more collaborative or remediation-focused approaches to eliminate and prevent forced labor.” According to some State officials cited off the record by the GAO report, CBP’s enforcement actions “are not always helpful.” According to these officials, a WRO is “a punitive measure” for dealing with an issue that may call for more finesse.

We don’t think so. Finesse isn’t working.

If the State Department does formally determine China is in breach of the Genocide Convention of the UN, then it raises the critical question of whether the Biden administration or the Congress will do anything to restrict the import of products made with Xinjiang components.

As an example of the kind of business being done in Xinjiang, China’s polysilicon market is highly concentrated there. That is the material that goes into making solar cells that eventually get hooked up into solar panels.  Chinese companies are not only importing millions of dollars of solar panels made from Xinjiang polysilicon, several of those companies have raised money on American stock exchanges. It’s not just solar panels either. The availability of cheap electricity in Xinjiang, generated from many coal-fired power stations there, attracts many industries to Xinjiang. Volkswagen is there.

If Congress is to take genocide seriously enough to warrant some sort of punishment where it hurts – then it would require going after some of the most important supply chains in Xinjiang, China.

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