To coerce behavior in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has employed thousands of security agents along with high-tech forms of surveillance, including security cameras and facial recognition software. Because the Chinese press is censored by the government, news of these abuses has filtered out of the region largely through foreign journalists and independent researchers. China denied the existence of the internment camps until classified government documents were leaked last year; since then, government officials have described the camps as “vocational centers.”
China’s role as scheduled host of the 2022 Winter Olympics offers the world a chance to speak up for the Uighurs and apply pressure on the government to relent. So far, China’s economic clout on the world stage has rendered many nations hesitant to respond. The US shows no signs of making religious freedom for the Uighurs a key issue in trade negotiations.
The US Congress is, however, considering a bill that would direct the Trump administration to identify Chinese officials involved in the abuses and to deny them entry to the US and freeze their financial assets. The bill would also impose sanctions on tech firms that supply China with equipment used in repression and surveillance. The bill passed the House of Representatives and awaits a vote in the Senate. As modest as it is, such a law would be one of the more significant international efforts to hold Chinese leaders accountable for their brutal and systematic assault on a religious community.