Congress Aims to Address China's Atrocities against Religious Minorities

By Travis Weber and Arielle Del Turco

Arielle Del Turco is a Research Assistant at the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Travis Weber is Vice President for Policy and Government Affairs and Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared in National Review on July 12, 2019.

China is harvesting human organs from political prisoners, according to the independent China Tribunal, which has determined “beyond reasonable doubt” that crimes against humanity have been committed against Uyghurs and Falun Gong, two of the country’s religious minorities. The world has known of China’s religious-freedom abuses for decades but done little.

China’s Uyghur Muslim population faces immediate threat, and so the introduction of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which aims to highlight China’s brutal crackdown, is welcome news indeed. Why ought the U.S. Congress to care about the Uyghurs, a Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic group living in northwest China? Because they are victims in one of the greatest atrocities of the 21st century — and Chinese leaders are only half-heartedly attempting to hide it.

The bill calls out Beijing for new methods of oppression established in Xinjiang, where over 80 percent of China’s Uyghurs reside. Intended to restrict the movement and freedom of Uyghurs, these methods include GPS tracking systems, facial- and voice-recognition technology, cell-phone monitoring, and forced DNA sampling. The organ-harvesting of Uyghurs feeds China’s transplant trade, which is valued in the billions of dollars.

The most significant religious-freedom violations occur in Xinjiang’s “political reeducation” camps. In China’s official propaganda, they are characterized as anti-terrorism measures, places where “free vocational training” is provided to Uyghur Muslims accused of harboring “extreme thoughts.” In reality, the camps are prisons intended to force Uyghurs to adopt the cultural attitudes, including secularism, mandated by the Chinese Communist Party. Detainees undergo Communist Party indoctrination and suffer inhumane living conditions and torture. At least 1 million Uyghurs are currently detained in these massive camps, conservative estimates suggest. The detention of Uyghurs is the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today, according to the U.S. Congressional–Executive Commission on China.

The chilling rhetoric that Chinese leaders use to describe the Uyghurs is noted in the the bill before Congress. Referring to their policies against the Uyghurs, Xinjiang officials have spoken of “eradicating tumors” and spraying chemicals on crops to kill the “weeds.” The bill would place these horrors front and center in U.S. foreign policy and in the agendas of national-security agencies. It would require reports on national and regional security threats posed by the crackdown in Xinjiang. The secretary of state would be required to publish an annual report assessing the status of Xinjiang camps and to consider creating a new position to address human-rights violations in the province. The Federal Bureau of Investigation would be required to document efforts to protect U.S. citizens and residents who have been harassed by the Chinese government.

No amount of U.S. government reports, or even a new position at the State Department, will fully solve the crisis in Xinjiang, however. They aren’t intended to. Their aim is to send to Beijing the message that the U.S. notices and documents the Chinese government’s treatment of religious minorities.

Chinese leaders are highly sensitive to embarrassment on the world stage. Public shaming may be more effective than closed-door diplomacy in influencng their actions in Xinjiang. By highlighting this issue, the U.S. Congress can increase the social pressure they feel.

Compared with the horrendous atrocities being committed in Xinjiang, implementation of the bill would be relatively painless. In a world where federal agencies and government departments report on myriad issues, we can devote at least a few reports to the exposure of China’s rampant human-rights abuses.

China wants to be respected and accepted as an influential country. Congress has the opportunity to tell Beijing that its reputation will remain blackened until it remedies its human-rights abuses. Instead of earning our respect, China would be the subject of our security reports and require a State Department leader dedicated to addressing their mistreatment of religious minorities. That would embarrass them — and it should.

Passing the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act will send the message to China that the U.S. values religious freedom and that we care about how other countries — especially those who wish to do business with us — treat their religious minorities. Congress should pass the bill without hesitation.