House Passes Uighur Human Rights Bill, Prodding Trump to Punish China

WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to pass a measure that would punish top Chinese officials for detaining more than one million Muslims in internment camps, sending President Trump a bill intended to force him to take a more aggressive stand on human rights abuses in China.

The bipartisan vote, 413 to 1, cleared legislation that would compel Mr. Trump to impose sanctions on Chen Quanguo, the top Communist Party official in Xinjiang, where the camps are, and mandate that the director of national intelligence produce a list of Chinese companies involved in the construction and operation of the camps.

The bill’s passage reflected broad congressional support to punish Beijing for its ruthless campaign against Uighurs, Muslim ethnic minorities, and to press the administration into action to condemn China’s mass detentions. The Senate passed the legislation, which was sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, earlier this month.

“With this overwhelming bipartisan legislation, the United States Congress is taking a firm step to counter Beijing’s horrific human rights abuses against the Uighurs,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We must continue to raise a drumbeat and shine the light of abuse perpetrated by Beijing against the Uighurs whenever we can, from this House floor to the State Department to other multilateral institutions.”

Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, was the sole lawmaker to oppose the bill.

The drive to pass the legislation has been a yearlong effort by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, especially China hawks, who have grown frustrated at the administration’s reluctance to punish human rights abuses by Beijing despite damning reports outlining a brutal indoctrination campaign against Uighurs.

Tensions have since risen with China during the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr. Trump’s campaign aides in recent weeks have taken up a partywide strategy of attacking Beijing, in part to divert from the administration’s own handling of the health crisis.

China has vehemently denied reports of abuses in Xinjiang, and has described the camps as corrective facilities aimed at training workers. But overwhelming evidence, including official documents, news reports and testimony from released detainees, shows the country’s most sweeping internment program since the Mao era.

On the House floor on Wednesday, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey and one of the sponsors of the bill, recounted one such story that he heard from a released detainee who came before the House to detail her experience in one of the camps.

“She broke down weeping, telling us that she pleaded with God for her life, and her Chinese jailers restrained her to a table, increased the electrical currents coursing through her body and mocked her belief in God,” Mr. Smith said.

“We cannot be silent,” he continued. “Xi Jinping is smashing and obliterating an entire people.”

Last year, Congress unanimously passed legislation supporting the Hong Kong protests, forcing Mr. Trump to sign the bill. Mr. Trump, who had previously said he was “standing with” Mr. Xi, the Chinese leader, risked being overruled by Congress and criticized as weak on China if he had vetoed the measure. But when he signed the bill, he issued a statement saying he would “exercise executive discretion” in enforcing its provisions.

The focus on human rights in Congress has extended beyond China, with some Republicans breaking from Mr. Trump to support other human rights causes. Last year, over the administration’s objections, lawmakers passed legislation recognizing as a genocide the 1915 killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, and another bill, included in the annual defense policy bill, that imposed sanctions on Syrian officials responsible for human rights violations during the nation’s civil war.

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