Where Is America's Outrage over China's Treatment of the Uighurs?

by Peter Harris

The Trump administration is reportedly considering sanctions against China in response to Beijing’s mass detention of ethnic Uighurs in its western Xinjiang province. This comes after a bipartisan group of lawmakers called the situation an “ongoing human rights crisis” and urged the White House to act. Yet it will take much more than a letter from Congress for President Donald Trump to become a champion of the Uighurs’ human rights. He and his advisers will have to be convinced that elevating the plight of Chinese Muslims above other elements of the U.S.-China relationship would clearly serve the president’s agenda.

The situation in Xinjiang certainly constitutes a grave abuse of human rights. According to the United Nations, up to a million civilians are being held in internment camps on the pretext that the Uighurs, by their very existence as a distinct ethnic and cultural group, pose a threat to China’s national security. Journalists and human rights observers tell stories of forced displacement, physical and psychological torture , family separations , and other atrocities. The scale of the hellishness is difficult to comprehend. But none of this means that President Trump will respond to Beijing with a firm hand. In fact, the greater likelihood is that Trump will refrain from punishing or even criticizing China too harshly—if he does at all.