The Chinese government reacted with fury to the proposed legislation, which Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said “wantonly smeared China’s counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts.”
“The issue that Xinjiang faces is not about ethnicity, religion or human rights. Rather, it is about fighting violence, terrorism and separatism,” Hua said in a statement Wednesday.
The bill, which terms the detention centers “political re-education camps,” recommends targeted sanctions on members of the Chinese government and the Communist Party, as well as bans on the sale of US-made goods to “any state agent in Xinjiang.”
The vote represents a growing consensus in Washington to take a tougher line with Beijing over allegations of human rights abuses and comes amid growing tensions between the US and China across a number of fronts.
Billions of dollars of tariffs on American and Chinese goods have been imposed by both countries in recent months, in an escalating dispute that has caused anxiety in world markets.
Both countries are currently attempting to negotiate a “phase one” deal in their yearlong trade war.
Having passed the US House of Representatives by a vote of 407 to 1, the Uyghur act will now head to the US Senate for approval, before being sent to Trump.
US, China tensions
The passage of the bill comes after two sets of leaked documents published by global media threw a spotlight on the mass detention of Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang.
The Chinese government has long maintained the camps are voluntary “vocational training centers,” which have successfully worked to secure and “de-radicalize” the region.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act is the second piece of major US legislation denouncing allegations of Chinese human rights abuses to pass the House in less than a month.
US President Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on November 27 in response to growing concerns that the city’s special freedoms were being undermined by Beijing.