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Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yengisar, Xinjiang. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden campaign said in a statement Tuesday that the Chinese government's oppression of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the northwest region of Xinjiang is "genocide," and that Joe Biden "stands against it in the strongest terms."

Why it matters: Genocide is a serious crime under international law, and the U.S. government has adopted the formal label only on rare occasions after extensive documentation.

  • China has vehemently rejected any claim that it is engaged in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, but reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have documented a sweeping campaign of repression against Uighurs.
  • The draconian reports of mass surveillance, arbitrary detentions, brainwashing, torture and forced sterilization have been described by some experts as "demographic genocide."

Between the lines: Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates initially provided the statement in response to an unconfirmed Politico story, which reported that the Trump administration is considering formally labeling China's actions a genocide.

  • The internal deliberations are reportedly still in the early stages. A formal accusation of genocide by the U.S. would infuriate China at a time when tensions are already running high, and could prompt calls on the international stage for the U.S. to take greater steps to intervene.
  • President Trump told Axios in a June interview that he held off on imposing sanctions against Chinese officials involved with the mass detention camps because doing so would have interfered with his China trade deal.
  • Former White House national security adviser John Bolton also claimed in his book that Trump encouraged China's President Xi Jinping in June 2019 to continue building the detention camps. Trump has denied the allegations.

The big picture: Top Trump administration officials have publicly condemned China's oppression of the Uighurs, and the Treasury Department has sanctioned a number of officials and entities involved in operating the internment camps. The Trump campaign and Biden campaign have repeatedly clashed over who is "tougher" than China.

What they're saying:

“The unspeakable oppression that Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms. If the Trump administration does indeed choose to call this out for what it is, as Joe Biden already did, the pressing question is what will Donald Trump do to take action. He must also apologize for condoning this horrifying treatment of Uighurs."
— Biden spokesperson Andrew Bates

For the record: The Trump campaign referred Axios' request for comment to the White House. The White House did not respond.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Dec 1, 2020 - World

Expected Biden push on human rights sparks tussle over UN council

Fiji's nominee, Nazhat Shameem Khan. Photo: Alice Chiche/AFP via Getty

A last-minute nomination to lead the UN Human Rights Council appears to be part of an effort by authoritarian countries to preempt the incoming Biden administration's efforts to rally international attention to human rights abuses, the NYT reports.

Background: The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the council in 2018, citing anti-Israel bias, and removed human rights as a core consideration in U.S. foreign policy.

Democrat Mark Kelly sworn in to U.S. Senate

Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

Astronaut Mark Kelly (D) was sworn in to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday after defeating incumbent Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) last month for the seat once held by the late Sen. John McCain.

Why it matters: Kelly's swearing-in narrows the Republican majority and moves the Senate balance to 52-48.

Senate Armed Services chair dismisses Trump threat to veto defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he plans to move ahead with a crucial defense-spending bill without provisions that would eliminate tech industry protections, defying a veto threat from President Trump.

Why it matters: Inhofe's public rebuke signals that the Senate could have enough Republican backing to override a potential veto from Trump, who has demanded that the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.