The US State Department's determination on 19 January 2021, that CCP/PRC policies in Xinjiang to Xinjiang Uyghur Region natives comprise of genocide and crimes against humanity is important. Below is a write-out of my Twitter thread about this (some is thus still in telegraphese). First, I will list the essentials, then discuss some problematic parts of Pompeo's statement in the context of the Trump administration's record on the issue of PRC policies in Xinjiang.
The genocide/crimes against humanity determination follows a November Biden campaign statement calling the policies in Xinjiang “genocide”. The new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has endorsed the genocide assessment. We can expect this understanding to play a role in the new administration’s China policy.
To be more than rhetoric, however, such a determination must serve a strategic purpose as part of a plan. Hopefully, it will help the Biden administration rally other nations to condemn PRC’s treatment of Uyghurs and others, and expand the use of targeted Magnitsky-type sanctions and scrutiny of supply chains linked to Xinjiang, Xinjiang local government offices, the Bingtuan (XPCC) and Chinese and international firms that deal with these entities. EU and Britain have trade deals with PRC pending. These findings of PRC genocide, crimes against humanity, should give the relevant parliaments pause before they rush into blanket trade deals that follow business as usual protocols.
Crucially, the determination identifies “crimes against humanity” as well as “genocide” in the Uyghur Region. What’s happening in Xinjiang clearly meets at least 3 of the 5 criteria of genocide as defined in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. However, that convention's Article II requires that the acts be committed with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, which may be a hard standard to prove even a court can be found to take up the case.
Crimes against humanity, on the other hand, are defined more concretely by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7. There is copious evidence that many of the acts enumerated in this statute have been taking place in Xinjiang. Moreover, Tajikistan, Cambodia and possibly other countries that are members of the International Criminal Court, have been party to refoulements of Uyghurs back to the PRC where they are subject to persecution and crimes against humanity. This, according to some international law experts, may then give the ICC the standing to hear cases regarding crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
Besides these potential legal implications of the US determination, however, the main impact is of course political. For one thing, Uyghur people whom I’ve communicated with about this are very happy that the US has officially labeled what’s happening to their relatives and friends a “genocide”. That's what many have been saying all along. For another, the US determination may help other countries announce similar findings. And really, leaders in China should really be appalled that the world is debating whether their policies in Xinjiang constitute genocide or not. This is not the global image that Xi’s China and Asia dreams promised.
Finally, although there may be a good deal of discussion of the “is it? or isn't it?” variety, simply because genocide is such a horrifying concept and powerful word, it's worth remembering that the targeting of ethnic and cultural difference by states or other actors, even if not yet or not fully lethal, is nonetheless a step along that dangerous path. It should be called out when we see it, even if the g-word is controversial.
Now, my criticism of Pompeo's hypocrisy and disingenuous, self-aggrandizing nonsense.
Former Secretary of State Pompeo, who on January 19th accused the PRC of international crimes, himself opposes international legal institutions and actually twice threatened the International Criminal Court for doing its job, by looking into crimes in Afghanistan and Palestine. The hypocrisy is unfortunate.
It is also highly irritating that Pompeo’s determination statement falsely claims that “for the past four years, this Administration has exposed the nature of the Chinese Communist Party and called it what it is: a Marxist-Leninist regime that exerts power over the long-suffering Chinese people through brainwashing and brute force.” There are a couple things to say about this Cold Warrish statement.
First, Marxism-Leninism has nothing to do with it. The Chinese Communist Party is authoritarian, and thus Leninist, but hardly recognizably Marxist any more. Its current assimilationist approach to Uyghurs and other non-Han ethnic groups is actually a reversal of previous PRC policies which recognized a plurality of “nations” in the PRC—just as the USSR was a union of multiple “socialist republics” and many “nationalities” besides Russian. Xi's China has been pushing the idea that all the minzu of the PRC are in fact elements of one super-group called Zhonghua; in a recent speech Xi even implied that all Xinjiang groups are racially related to the Han from ancient times—a throwback to the racialist arguments of the early Kuomingtang under Chiang Kai-shek. So, Secretary Pompeo, your retro-red baiting is not relevant here. (I don't particularly care about Marxism-Leninism, but if you don't diagnose a problem correctly, you can't address it correctly. We're not fighting old commies here.)
Second, and most important: Pompeo's claim that the Trump administration spent four years exposing the Xinjiang atrocities is false. Pompeo's boss Trump and his admin in fact prevented Congress from acting for nearly two years. A bill called the Uyghur Human Rights Act passed the Senate in November, 2018 with strong support from Democrats and Republicans. It was followed by similar bills in the House and Senate through 2019, all with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. Yet all were blocked by Trump's administration, or prevented from coming to a vote by then Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. One faction of the bipolar Trump administration, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, opposed action on the Uyghur atrocities, arguing that attention to human rights in China would upset prospects for a big trade deal—a trade deal to resolve the tariff crisis Trump himself had unilaterally created and which has achieved nothing! Indeed, the US trade deficit with China is now higher than when Trump took office; US tax-payers have paid billions in higher prices and taxes to bail out farmers who lost markets for soy beans and other products in China and to whom Trump provided welfare payments in order not to lose votes in their states.
Third—the Trump administration’s record on the PRC repression of Uyghurs is even worse than that. Trump repeatedly expressed his approval for the concentration camps in Xinjiang. He did so in November 2017 during a visit to Beijing; in 2018 in discussions with his National Security Council adviser John Bolton he questioned the idea of sanctioning Beijing over putting Uyghurs in concentration camps, and in June 2019 at Osaka G20 Trump told Xi Jinping that he (Trump) had no objections to Uyghurs in concentration camps. In the long list of horrifying Trump statements and actions, green-lighting the mass internments of millions because of their ethnicity has to be among the worst.
Only in spring of 2020 LESS THAN ONE YEAR AGO did the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Act come up for a vote, pass Congress, and Trump signed it.
Finally, with gut-wrenching irony, on the very same day that he released the determination about genocide and crimes against humanity against non-Han minorities in the PRC, Pompeo tweeted a jeremiad against “multi-culturalism”: it is “not who America is,” he wrote. To say such a thing two weeks after a white supremacist mob armed with Confederate battle flags and grotesque anti-Semitic symbols and slogans trashed the Capitol is as horrendous as it is, sadly, unsurprising.
Don’t give Pompeo or Trump credit for this for determination. There were good people in the US government working on the Xinjiang issue through that whole four year period, and they deserve credit. But the words and actions of the US government regarding the atrocities in Xinjiang so far come despite the unconscionable active and passive support for PRC’s repression of Uyghurs by Trump himself and by his enablers in his execrable administration.
And PLEASE don't keep saying Trump was “tough on China”. Trump's approach to the PRC was characterized by self-contradiction, bluster, incoherence, petulance and absolute failure to do effective or meaningful things even on economics, thanks largely to his dissing of allies and ignorance regarding the role of trade deficits in the US and global economy.
Pompeo lies that “this administration” exposed atrocities in Xinjiang. No. In fact, it was victims, victims’ family members, journalists and researchers who exposed the camps, birth suppression, separation of children from families, forced labor and other crimes against humanity in the Uyghur Region, starting years before Trump flipped on his “good friend” Xi.
The US finding of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Uyghur Region will be good if it actually helps. A loose cannon careens to port then starboard on a rudderless ship. A broken clock is right twice a day. Don’t credit Trump architects of chaotic China policy for eleventh hour gestures they previously opposed for years.