Repression of Uighur Muslims and ethnic and religious minority groups who live in China's northwestern Xinjiang region has been declared as genocide and crimes against humanity by the U.S.' top diplomat, according to CNN and other news outlets Wednesday.
The U.S. is the first nation to use the term 'genocide' to describe the human rights violations, although officials hope it will compel other countries to take a tougher stance against China regarding the issue, The New York Times reports. The rarely used label is expected to provoke a scathing response from Beijing.
"After careful evaluation of the facts, I have determined that the People's Republic of China, under the direction and control of the CCP, has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
The state department has previously estimated that up to 2 million Uighurs, including members of other Muslim minority groups, have been detained in a vast network of internment camps in the Chinese region.
Pompeo said the state department has concluded, following a thorough examination, that the crimes include: "arbitrary mass internment of more than 1 million people, forced sterilization, torture of those detained, forced labor, and restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement," The Week magazine quoted the U.S. official as saying in its report.
Many of those who are alleged to have been involved in the repression are already under the U.S. list of sanctions. The genocide tag means new measures will be easier to carry out.
The designation is also sure to deepen already frayed relations between the world's two leading economies, which have plunged to their lowest level in decades in the final year of Donald Trump's presidency.
Campaign for Uighurs, a Washington-based rights advocacy group, welcomed the designation as a step toward justice.
Worries over human rights abuses in Xinjiang is a bipartisan issue in Washington. However, the declaration in the last hours of the Trump administration could further worsen the incoming Biden administration's approach to and dealings with Beijing, political analysts said.