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US Senate approves bill calling for tougher response to China's crackdown on Uighur Muslims

Over a million Uighur Muslims are believed to be held in internment camps [Anadolu/Getty]

Date of publication: 15 May, 2020

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The US Senate passed a bipartisan bill urging President Donald Trump to toughen his response to China's crackdown on the Uighur Muslim minority.
The United States Senate unanimously approved legislation on Thursday calling on the White House to increase its pressure on China over its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority.

The bipartisan bill urges President Donald Trump to toughen his response to China's crackdown and calls for sanctions against those responsible, Reuters reported.

Rights groups say as many as one million Uighurs and other minorities are subjet to a massive brainwashing campaign in camps in China's Xinjiang region aimed at eradicating their culture.

Beijing says the camps are "vocational education centers" teaching Mandarin and job skills to steer "students" away from religious extremism.

The bill, which was introduced by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, specifically calls out Xinjiang's Communist Party secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo as being responsible for "gross human rights violations" against the Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Chen and Xinjiang's former deputy party secretary Zhu Hailun were also singled out in a bill passed by the House of Representatives last year - which called for sanctions against top Chinese officials involved in the crackdown.

Thursday's Senate bill also calls on US companies to ensure any operation in Xin Jiang are not "compromised by forced labor” believed to be in use there, Reuters reported.

Senator Rubio is also pushing for a ban on imports from Xinjiang due to the widespread use of forced labour in the region.

The US already bans imports made with forced labour, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers said virtually anything coming from Xinjiang should be considered tainted by the mass detention and repression of Uighurs.

Now that the bill has been passed in the Republican controlled Senate by unanimous consent, it will now go to the Democratic-led House of Representatives. 

If approved by the House, President Trump will then either veto the bill or sign it into law.

The Senate vote comes as relations between the US and China - the world's two largest economies - continue t deteriorate, with both sides trading barbs over the origins of the coronavirus that has killed more than 300,000 people.

Trump further hardened his rhetoric towards China on Thursday, threatening to cut ties with the rival superpower completely as relations have steadily deteriorated over the pandemic.

"There are many things we could do ... We could cut off the whole relationship," Trump said Thursday in an interview with Fox Business News.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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