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

Debate dashboard: Catch up fast

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

How Trump, Biden plan to score at Tuesday's debate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump has been practicing with flashcards and prepping with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before Tuesday's presidential debate.

Behind the scenes: Top aides tell Axios he's been testing his attacks on the campaign trail for weeks, seeing what ignites his crowds or falls flat. One of the biggest themes Trump plans to drive home is his "tough guy" persona, which advisers see as an advantage with voters in key states.

Trump and Biden clash over COVID: "It is what it is because you are who you are"

Joe Biden attacked President Trump at the presidential debate on Tuesday for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, accusing him of panicking and failing to prepare for the crisis when he was warned about it in February.

The big picture: "It is what it is because you are who you are," Biden said, alluding to an answer Trump gave in an interview with "Axios on HBO" when asked about the 150,000+ death toll from the coronavirus. Trump responded by claiming that Biden would not have shut down travel from China in the early days of the pandemic, and he defended his administration's mass production of ventilators and protective equipment.