How top 2020 Democrats would respond to China's mass detention of Uighur Muslims

July 22, 2019

Editors note: This is an interesting article because Democrats are most likely to break with free trade fantasies based upon human rights abuses. Republicans are most likely to do the same for national security reasons.

Several of the leading Democratic presidential contenders told Axios that if elected, they would go further than the Trump administration in confronting China over its imprisonment of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

[Alayna Treene, Dave Lawler | July 21, 2019 | Axios]

Why it matters: It has been two years since the internment camps — which activists say are designed to erase the Uighur identity — first came to light internationally. The Trump administration has considered imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over the camps, but has yet to act amid threats of retaliation.

Over the last week, Axios asked the top 2020 Democratic candidates how they would address the situation in Xinjiang if elected.

  • Specifically, would they support putting companies that build the Uighur detention camps and their surveillance system on the Commerce Departments' Entity List? And would they use the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction the people running the camps?

State of play:

  • Would support, at a minimum, both measures: Former VP Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro.
  • Proposed an alternative strategy: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. [Worth noting: Warren is the only senator running for president who signed a bipartisan letter to Trump administration officials in April urging greater export controls and Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese officials overseeing the Xinjiang policy.]
  • Did not respond to multiple requests for a comment: Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar. [Worth noting: Harris and Michael Bennet are the only senators running for president who did not co-sponsor the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in January.]
  • Declined to comment: Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
  • Read their full responses here.

Context: Earlier this week, 37 countries — including North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Russia, among other mostly-authoritarian states — signed a letter defending China's policies in Xinjiang.

The bottom line: Most of the world has been largely silent on this issue due in large part to China’s economic clout and penchant for lashing out over criticisms of its internal affairs. Trump administration officials have repeatedly criticized China but not acted on concrete proposals to impose costs on Beijing.

A State Department spokesman told Axios that the Trump administration "remains deeply concerned about these abuses, is committed to holding human rights violators accountable for their actions, and is implementing a whole-of-government response to address these concerns."

  • "This includes strengthening U.S. diplomatic and public diplomacy efforts around the world, and conducting outreach to U.S. companies with business in Xinjiang to urge them to implement human rights safeguards, thereby ensuring their commercial activities are not contributing to China’s campaign of repression," the spokesman added. Link to the full response.

Candidate responses

Joe Biden

Former vice president

A Biden campaign spokesperson said that, if elected, he would do both.

Kamala Harris

Senator (D-CA)

Did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.

Note: Harris is the only sitting Senator, apart from Michael Bennet, running for president in 2020 that did not cosponsor the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator (D-MA)

“Like in so many areas, we need to think about the broad range of tools available to us. That includes diplomatic pressure on China, working it in with our economic negotiations, and working with our allies around the world and international communities and international organizations to highlight the problem,” Warren told Axios.

“I don't think there is any one obvious answer that's going to resolve this problem. It's how we think of all the tools available to us, in order to move it in a better direction … The Trump administration has shown little interest in helping these people or in working with our allies to strengthen international standards that would protect them.”

A Warren campaign spokesman added that Warren is an original cosponsor of Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate, and that she signed a bipartisan letter to Trump administration officials in April urging greater export controls and Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese officials overseeing the Xinjiang policy. (Note: she was the only Senator running for president in 2020 to sign this).

Bernie Sanders

Senator (I-VT)

“We would do everything that we can to prevent the kind of persecution that is currently happening,” Sanders told Axios.

Sanders’ campaign added that “a Sanders administration would use those tools [mentioned above] to put pressure on [sic] China over its abuse of its Uighur population, but would also work to build and mobilize an international consensus to push China to change its practices”

Note: Sanders was a cosponsor of Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate.

Pete Buttigieg


“China’s techno-authoritarianism, supported by China’s growing power and global influence, presents a long-term challenge to universal human rights, including freedom of religion, speech, conscience, and assembly. In particular, China’s digitally-enabled oppression of millions of Uighur Muslims—ultimately designed to erase their religious and ethnic identity—shocks the conscience,” a Buttigieg spokesman told Axios.

“A Buttigieg Administration would at a minimum (1) support adding to the Entity List not only firms that build internment camps and the camps’ surveillance technology, but also firms engaged in China’s broader campaign of oppression across Xinjiang, which includes an invasive home monitoring program as well as child separation; (2) use the Magnitsky Act to sanction not only those Chinese officials responsible for the camps, but also those responsible for administering the broader campaign of repression in Xinjiang; and (3) support annual reporting to Congress on China’s use of surveillance technology to persecute the Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities, as well as China’s export of such technology to other countries.

Reports that the White House is willing to stay silent and withhold sanctions in exchange for trade concessions are deeply troubling. America’s commitment to dignity and religious freedom must not be for sale.”

Cory Booker

Senator (D-NJ)

“Cory is deeply disturbed by the human rights abuses happening in China's Xinjiang region and supports putting companies that build the detention camps being used and their surveillance system on the Commerce Department's Entity List. He also supports using the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction the people who are running the camps, and has recently signed on as a co-sponsor of S. 178, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which requires a series of reports on China’s treatment of the Uighars, including reports from the State Department and the Director of National Intelligence, that would be used to determine whether certain individuals meet the criteria for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.”

Note: Booker was a cosponsor of Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator (D-NY)

“Senator Gillibrand has taken a hard line against China's human rights violations against Uighur Muslims and other Chinese Muslim communities,” Gillibrand’s press secretary told Axios.

“Senator Gillibrand has pressed the Trump Administration to update U.S. export controls to prevent China from using emerging American technology to commit human rights violations against Uighur Muslims, and she is committed to curtailing China's ability to suppress its own citizens. As president, she will leverage national and international tools in an effort to end the tragedy in Xinjiang.”

Note: Gillibrand was a cosponsor of Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate.

Julián Castro

Former HUD Secretary

“The government of the People's Republic of China's efforts to erase Uighur culture and identity, including through holding up to a million individuals in concentration camps, is morally reprehensible. The United States must speak up and hold those in China accountable for these practices,” Secretary Castro told Axios.

“I support placing foreign companies complicit in China's oppression of Uighurs on the Commerce Department's Entity List, preventing them from doing business with United States companies or individuals, and will ensure no American company benefits from forced labor in Xinjiang. I also support using the tools of the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction those running the camps.

We also need to ensure that U.S. tech companies do not support the government of China in its authoritarian ambitions. I was pleased to see today that Google terminated Project Dragonfly, a project they had undertaken to design a search engine that complies with Chinese censorship standards.”

Amy Klobuchar

Senator (D-MN)

The campaign did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.

Note: Klobuchar was a cosponsor of Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in the Senate.

Beto O'Rourke

Former Congressman

The campaign declined to comment.

Axios Editor's note: This piece has been corrected to say that Sen. Michael Bennet also did not sign the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act in January.

Read the original article here.

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