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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

Dec 2, 2020 - World

Biden says he won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President-elect Joe Biden during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.

Updated Dec 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The top Republicans who have acknowledged Biden as president-elect

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Some elected Republicans are breaking ranks with President Trump to acknowledge that President-elect Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: The relative sparsity of acknowledgements highlights Trump's lasting power in the GOP, as his campaign moves to file multiple lawsuits alleging voter fraud in key swing states — despite the fact that there have been no credible allegations of any widespread fraud anywhere in the U.S.

Dec 3, 2020 - World

Azar's UN remarks to take aim at China

Alex Azar during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. Photo credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is expected to give a speech at a special session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday that hails U.S. progress on coronavirus vaccines while criticizing — though not directly naming — China.

Why it matters: U.S. government officials are concerned that China will use the UN special session to spread disinformation about the origins of the virus and China's early missteps in handling the pandemic.