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Tibetans-in-exile in Nepal take part in a candlelight vigil after a prominent monk self-immolates to protest Chinese rule. Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images

As President Xi Jinping takes Chinese influence to every corner of the world, there remain corners of his own country that his government struggles to control.

The big picture: The Chinese Communist Party has no tolerance for dissent from ethnic minorities, and fears it could be damaged if word of human rights violations against those groups spreads outside China’s borders.

The intrigue: Some U.S. lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, are pushing the Trump administration to take a harder line on human rights violations.

"We should not be quiet on this in exchange for a better trade deal, and we should not be quiet on this in exchange for their cooperation on North Korea."
— Rubio, in interview with Axios
The human rights violations

The regions of concern for the Communist Party are Xinjiang — populated by Muslim Uighursand Tibet. China has a long history of repression of the Uighurs and has tried to squash opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet, including by exiling the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhists' spiritual leader.

  • What's happening: Tension between Chinese officials and Uighur separatists in Xinjiang have often led to violent clashes, and nearly 150 Tibetan monks have protested by self-immolation.

Citizens of Xinjiang and Tibet are under strict surveillance and subjected to propaganda campaigns.

  • In Xinjiang, officials are collecting mandatory DNA samples and fingerprints from citizens under the guise of a free health care program, says Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs are also detained in political education camps that push propaganda about Chinese identity.
  • In Tibet, "local officials [from the Atheist Communist Party] have intruded into core decision-making about how monasteries and nunneries are run," Richardson says. And local schools in Tibet heavily emphasize Mandarin Chinese, stripping children of Tibetan language and culture.

China also tries to surveil and pressure Uighur and Tibetan refugees who have left the country and, in some cases, become foreign citizens.

  • In April, Swedish authorities indicted a man for allegedly spying on Tibetan refugees for the Chinese government.
  • Per Richardson, "Usually, governments will want to say, 'Good riddance, go.' China says, 'You're coming back.'"
The Communist Party's fears

The party worries about two scenarios, according to Yun Sun, who runs the Stimson Center's China program:

  1. Enough dissent could prompt political reform that would challenge one-party rule.
  2. Ethnic autonomy could lead to secession of Xinjiang and Tibet — a de facto disintegration of China.

The stakes: Secession "is not a political scenario that the central Chinese government can afford," Sun says. "It would lose its legitimacy in front of the Chinese people."

  • Yes, but: "Given the reality on the ground, I don't think its possible or likely that [either region] could secede or declare independence," she says.
America's role

While past U.S. presidents have made China's domestic policies a central issue in the bilateral relationship, President Trump has prioritized trade and North Korea. "Even the Chinese acknowledge that the Trump administration has not targeted the domestic politics of China," says Sun."They feel that there's not pressure from Washington."

But Rubio — one of the co-chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an organization created by Congress to monitor human rights in China — co-wrote a letter urging U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad to visit Xinjiang and take action against human rights violations.

"We need to raise it ... The Chinese prefer it to be done in private," Rubio says.

Go deeper

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.