BEIJING (Dispatches) — Already strained relations between China and the United States were further muddied after U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved a bill targeting Beijing for alleged crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities Wednesday, less than one week after President Donald Trump signed separate human rights legislation on Hong Kong.
China’s ruling Communist Party has long regarded Hong Kong and the far west Xinjiang region as crucial areas for asserting territorial sovereignty, and it has responded with fury to what it considers foreign meddling.
"Xinjiang is China’s Xinjiang,” said a statement from China’s National Ethnic Affairs Commission, echoing another government mantra: "Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong.”
Tensions over the recently passed U.S. bills have cast doubt over the potential for a trade deal between the two countries, which have been embroiled in a 16-month tariff war. Trump said Tuesday that he has "no deadline” for striking an agreement and that he may wait until after next year’s presidential election.
The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act denounces the alleged detention of an estimated 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others in Xinjiang, home to the predominantly Muslim minority groups. It would require the State Department to evaluate whether Chinese officials would meet the criteria for sanctions for their roles in enacting oppressive policies.
The bill "disregards the facts and mixes up black and white,” said the Foreign Affairs Commission of China’s legislature in one among a slew of strongly worded rebukes from government departments.
"It is regrettable that U.S. Congress has not only turned a blind eye to Xinjiang’s efforts to combat terrorism and protect human rights in accordance with laws and regulations, but also to Xinjiang’s current economic development, social stability, national unity and religious harmony,” the commission said.
Beijing says the measures are necessary to combat terrorism and eradicate religious extremism, calling the facilities "vocational training centers” for those who lack employable skills.
"The U.S. bill smears our efforts in counterterrorism and deradicalization, which only reveals America’s double standards on counterterrorism and further exposes to the Chinese people its hypocrisy and malicious intentions,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
China has repeatedly criticized the U.S. for interfering in its affairs, most recently accusing Washington of being a "black hand” that has orchestrated riots in Hong Kong.
After Trump signed bills mandating sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials, an annual review of Hong Kong’s favorable trade status and a ban on exporting nonlethal munitions to Hong Kong police, China retaliated Monday by suspending U.S. military ship and aircraft visits to Hong Kong.