(Headline USA) Secretary of State Antony Blinken met virtually on Tuesday with Uyghur Muslims who were detained at camps in China’s northwest Xinjiang region to hear about their experiences and seek advice on how best to pressure China to halt repression there.
The State Department said Blinken wanted to hear directly from the seven former detainees, relatives of others and advocates about conditions that they and the Uyghur community more broadly face.
Blinken’s first six months at the State Department have been relatively unremarkable compared to his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who made the release of hostages and political prisoners a top priority.
“The secretary thought it important to meet with these individuals to hear firsthand their stories, to hear firsthand their impression of the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang and the internment of a million Uyghurs,” department spokesman Ned Price said. “Also, it’s an opportunity for these participants to offer any recommendations they may have.”
China has come under severe international criticism and sanctions for detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and and other minorities for political re-education in Xinjiang.
Blinken’s diplomatic career got off to a bumpy start when he led a delegation to meet with his Chinese counterpart in Alaska early in the administration.
China was remarkably blunt, and even disrespectful, during the public part of those sessions, going so far as to counter US accusations of human-rights abuses by pointing to America’s recent racial unrest.
Chinese officials said the once great US was not on equal footing anymore when it came to bilateral negotiations, even as China’s role in engineering the coronavirus pandemic and other controversies continue to undermine US interests and national security.
Blinken’s appointment, however, was seen as something of a signal of US acquiescence after the confrontational tone under former president Donald Trump.
While serving as a director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Biden Center, Blinken took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in anonymous funding from Chinese donors. Biden also has been linked through members of his family to shady business deals with China.
Price said the meeting with Chinese human-rights victims showed continuity in American policy on the matter between the widely divergent Biden and Trump administrations.
Both administrations have termed the campaign in Xinjiang a “genocide” and slapped sanctions on China for human rights abuses. Pompeo met several times with Uyghur ex-detainees during his tenure as America’s top diplomat.
“America has spoken out very clearly and consistently about the abuses, about the atrocities, about the ongoing genocide that is taking place in Xinjiang,” Price said.
“And, as we deem appropriate, I suspect we’ll be employing additional tools going forward to hold to account those officials responsible for what has taken place there,” he added.
Since the Trump administration, the U.S. has steadily ramped up pressure on China on a number of fronts, notably over repression in Xinjiang and a clampdown on political dissent and human rights in Hong Kong. Those have included travel bans, financial sanctions and commercial restrictions on Chinese imports to the U.S.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press