Updated Jun 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bolton alleges Trump encouraged Xi to continue with Uighur detainment camps

Trump and Xi walk past the American and Chinese flags

President Trump and China's President Xi Jinping in November 2017 in Beijing. Photo: Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump allegedly told Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2019 to continue building camps used to detain 1 million–2 million Uighur Muslims, according to an excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal from former national security adviser John Bolton's book. Trump denied the claims in an interview with the WSJ later Wednesday.

Why it matters: China's internment camps have used mass surveillance, arbitrary detentions, brainwashing and even torture on the persecuted minority group living in the Xinjiang region, as exposed by journalists, NGOs and former detainees.

Between the lines, via Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Trump administration officials have publicly condemned the camps. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sam Brownback, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom appointed by Trump, have all spoken out against them.

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took the novel step of adding dozens of Chinese companies and government bureaus deemed complicit in operating the camps to an export blacklist normally reserved for terrorism and financial offenses.
  • Around the same time as the WSJ excerpt was published Wednesday, Trump signed a bill passed by Congress that calls for sanctions for Chinese officials responsible for the camps.
  • But many of the allegations excerpted from Bolton's book claim that Trump's personal dealings with China were singularly focused on securing his own re-election, not on the country's history of human rights abuses.

What he's saying: "At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang," Bolton writes in his upcoming book, per the WSJ.

  • "According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China."

What they're saying: The White House referred Axios to a comment from press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who said Wednesday that the book is "full of classified information." The National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

  • In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday night, Trump said the claims about the camp were "not true" and called Bolton a "liar."

Go deeper ... Report: Leaked files show how mass detention of Uighurs was organized

Editor's note: This article has been updated with Trump's comments.

Go deeper