By Sarah Dilorenzo
NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump administration, locked in a trade war with China, is increasing pressure on Beijing over what it says is the systematic oppression of ethnic minority Muslims.
The U.S. State Department hosted a panel Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly gathering in New York to highlight the struggle of Uighurs, whose native land in China’s far western Xinjiang province they say is a police state.
Three Uighurs recounted how the Chinese have placed their brethren in “re-education camps,” forced them to live with minders — or spies — in their homes, and surveilled and harassed them both at home and abroad in an attempt to eradicate their way of life and enforce their silence.
“China’s at war with faith,” said Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He noted that American concerns extend beyond the predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs to Tibetans, Christians and the banned spiritual movement known as Falun Gong.
“They’re at war with all faiths,” Brownback said.
China vehemently denies this. It says the camps in Xinjiang are for vocational training and, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it has defended any crackdowns on Uighurs as necessary in the name of rooting out Muslim extremists.
American officials said they hoped that by bringing the stories of Uighurs to a broader public through Tuesday’s event, they would raise awareness of the severity of the oppression and encourage other countries and the United Nations to pressure China.
Congress is also weighing a bill that would condemn the treatment of Uighurs and ask the administration to consider sanctions.
Officials also noted that the efforts fit a broader priority for the administration: protecting religious freedom the world over.