The U.S. State Department again on Monday accused the Chinese government of genocide in its repression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, citing it as one of six places in the world where crimes against humanity are being committed or are at risk of happening.
In a report on atrocities and genocide prevention, it listed imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution as among Beijing’s crimes.
The very public accusations will further ramp up tension, on a day when Beijing claimed it ‘drove away’ an American warship and accused Joe Biden of ‘provocative actions’ after the destroyer sailed in the South China Sea.
‘This year, for the first time, the report provides direct detailed accounts of atrocities taking place in specific countries, including Burma, Ethiopia, China, and Syria,’ said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
‘These places represent some of the toughest foreign policy challenges on our agenda.
‘And we’ll keep working toward resolutions that reflect our commitment to human rights and democratic values.’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about the release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act at the State Department in Washington
This file picture from 2017 shows Uyghur detainees at a camp in Lo County, Xinjiang. Last week the Biden administration sanctioned 14 Chinese companies for their connection to alleged human rights abuses or high-tech surveillance operations
Police officers patrol in the old city in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 4, 2021
A recent government trip for foreign journalists to Xinjiang offered a positive picture of the region and counter growing criticism from the West
Former President Donald Trump’s administration first described Chinese actions against the Uyghurs as a genocide and the Biden administration endorsed that determination by repeating the charge in its annual human rights report, published in March.
The new report said the State Department continues to believe the regime is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against other ethnic and religious minority groups.
‘The crimes against humanity include imprisonment, torture, enforced sterilization, and persecution,’ it said.
The report was launched amid fresh geopolitical muscle flexing.
Hours earlier, the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, entered disputed waters in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands. China claims the islands, and the surrounding waters, as its territory although this is not internationally recognized.
The southern theatre command of the People’s Liberation Army said the destroyer entered without China’s approval, violating its sovereignty and undermining the stability of the region.
‘We urge the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions,’ it said in a statement.
But the U.S. 7th Fleet said the claims were untrue and the Benfold operated in accordance with international law.
The USS Benfold (pictured) on Monday entered the disputed waters near the Paracel Islands, which China claims as its own territory
The US Navy said the Benfold asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands consistent with international law
‘The operation reflects our commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle,’ it said in a statement.
‘The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Benfold did here.’
A day earlier, Blinken had described freedom of the seas as an ‘enduring’ interest of all nations as he marked the fifth anniversary of an international ruling that found in favor of the Philippines, against China’s maritime claims.
‘Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea,’ he said.
‘The People’s Republic of China continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway.’
At the same time, Washington has been increasing economic pressure on Beijing for its treatment of ethic Uyghurs.
Last week the U.S. added 14 Chinese companies to its economic blacklist for alleged human rights abuses and high-tech surveillance in Xinjiang.
The Commerce Department said the Chinese companies had been ‘implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.’
It triggered an angry response from Beijing, which has always denied the allegations.
The Commerce Ministry accused the U.S. of an ‘unreasonable suppression of Chinese enterprises and a serious breach of international economic and trade rules,’ and promised retaliation.
Beijing argues its policies are necessary to clamp down on separatists and religious extremists who plotted attacks and stirred up tension between mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs and Han, China’s largest ethnic group.
Elsewhere, the seven-page report said Myanmar, also known as Burma, remains at particular risk for genocide.
It said the U.S. would continue to coordinate with allies and partners to press the military government there to halt all repression, including crackdowns on dissent that followed a coup in February, as well as the violence against the Rohingya.
It also criticized Eritrea and Ethiopia for ethnic cleansing during their military campaign in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
An abandoned Eritrean tank beside the road in Dansa, southwest of Mekele in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Some two million people have been forced from their homes in violence
‘Secretary Blinken continues to urge an immediate, full withdrawal of Eritrean troops and Amhara regional security forces, cessation of hostilities, a sustainable political solution, protection of civilians, and an independent, credible investigation of atrocities, including widespread sexual violence,’ said the report.
Blinken said the U.S. was continuing its review of whether actions in Tigray constituted crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. continued to call for a negotiated ceasefire to a conflict that has forced almost two millions from their homes.
‘strongly condemn any retaliatory attacks that have been or may be directed against civilians in the Tigray region, whether by organized military or security forces or by rogue elements,’ he said.
It painted a bleak picture elsewhere in Africa. In South Sudan it said the U.S. had helped establish a court to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
‘The government has perpetrated extrajudicial killings including ethnic-based killings of civilians, widespread sexual violence, and use of food as a weapon of war,’ it said.
‘Non-government armed groups also perpetrated unlawful killings, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment of children.’
The report also said the Biden administration would continue to support efforts to bring Islamic State militants to justice for atrocities committed against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
And it reiterated the U.S. commitment to holding Syrian President Bashar Assad and his government to account for abuses.
‘This report makes clear that the United States will continue to redouble its efforts to prevent, mitigate, and respond to atrocities with more timely and effective actions in coordination with likeminded partners in multilateral fora, such as the International Atrocity Prevention Working Group,’ said Robert J. Faucher, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.
‘We will continue to actively solicit vital input from civil society on atrocity risk analysis, prevention strategies, and methods to address grievances and community recovery.’