The United States said Tuesday that it has determined that the Chinese government's crackdown on its Muslim Uighur minority amounts to "genocide," in a move that will likely further strain bilateral ties just as Democrat Joe Biden is set to take office.
Since at least March 2017, China has committed "crimes against humanity" against Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang autonomous region in the western part of the country, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
Beijing has taken such measures as "the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than 1 million civilians, forced sterilization" and other activities, Pompeo said in a statement. "I believe this genocide is ongoing," he added.
The move can be seen as part of the efforts of the administration of Republican President Donald Trump to lock in a tough approach to China before its handover to the Biden government.
Biden's Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken indicated that the incoming administration will take the same position on the issue, saying, "I think we're very much in agreement."
"Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide, and so I agree with that finding," he said.
Under a UN convention, genocide includes actions such as killing as well as imposing measures to prevent births, committed with "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
Pompeo said the latest determination exposed "the second-most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on Earth" is engaged "in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image."
The United States calls upon Beijing to immediately release all arbitrarily detained persons and abolish its system of detention camps, while ceasing coercive population control measures, he said.
Beijing has said that the detention camps are actually vocational training centers to preemptively combat terrorism and religious extremism.
In 2016, under the administration of Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, the United States declared that the Islamic State extremist group had committed genocide against religious minorities in areas under its control, including Christians and Shiite Muslims.