USCIRF Hits a Nerve on Uyghurs, China Retaliates

March 29, 2021

Some wear China's scorn as a badge of honor. Late last summer, when the communist regime lashed out at Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), he tweeted, "Last month #China banned me. Today, they sanctioned me. I don't want to be paranoid, but I am starting to think they don't like me." Turns out, China's government doesn't like a lot of people, including members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) like Gayle Manchin and me.

Over the weekend, Gayle and I joined the club of global leaders who've been sanctioned by China for speaking out against the country's Uyghur genocide. In a statement, the foreign ministry announced that -- together with members of the Canadian parliament, who recently condemned the human rights abuses -- were a threat to the country's national sovereignty. "They must stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues, stop interfering in China's internal affairs in any form and refrain from going farther down the wrong path. Otherwise they will get their fingers burnt."

"I feel flattered to be recognized by Communist China for calling out genocidal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities," Gayle, USCIRF's current chairman, fired back. Referencing the travel ban that China included in the sanctions, she said, "While I don't have plans to [go] to China this summer, I won't stop speaking out when egregious violations of religious freedom are taking place as they are in China."

As vice chair of the commission, I echo those sentiments. Obviously, the Chinese Communist Party's sanctions are nothing but tactics of intimidation, designed to help them save face in an international community that's denounced their brutal and repressive policies. We call on the world's leaders, especially U.S. allies who share the same fundamental universal values and principles of freedom of religion or belief and the rule of law, to redouble their efforts and unite in standing up to Communist China. Also, as USCIRF has said before, there should be an impartial, international investigation into the atrocities in Xinjiang and the Communist Party's genocidal campaign -- as well as worldwide effort to either move or boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Thanks to the Trump administration, who made international religious freedom a priority, the horrors in Xinjiang are now the subject of global outcry. Unfortunately, under Joe Biden -- a man who called the torture, rape, and systematic killing of the Uyghurs "a difference of cultural norms" in February -- China must feel emboldened by his muddled messages on the subject. It's time for this White House to make it clear to China -- and any country that persecutes its own -- that religious freedom is and will continue to be a top concern in America's foreign policy.

In the meantime, Gayle and I are in good company, joining Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Rubio, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and other freedom warriors who refuse to turn a blind eye to China's atrocities.