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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

Laurel Hubbard to become 1st openly trans athlete to compete at Olympics

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, when she became the first openly transgender athlete to represent NZ. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has announced that Laurel Hubbard has been selected for the women's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games — making her the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the event.

The big picture: Hubbard, 43, is part of a five-member Kiwi weightlifting team and will compete in the women's super heavyweight category. Meanwhile, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will become the first openly trans athlete to travel to the Olympics with Team USA, when she arrives in Tokyo as a reserve rider.

American Airlines cuts hundreds of flights amid demand surge

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

American Airlines announced Sunday that it's cutting some 950 flights from its schedule, including 296 this weekend, to reduce potential pressure on its operations, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Driving the news: The U.S. vaccine rollout has led to a massive increase in travel bookings. The airline noted in an emailed statement that it's facing an "incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand."

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Florida Pride parade fatal crash a "tragic accident," police say

Participants walk away as police investigate the scene where a pickup truck drove into a crowd of people at a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Police said Sunday they believe a driver unintentionally hit spectators at a weekend Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, resulting in the death of one man and leaving another person hospitalized.

The latest: Addressing speculation that the crash may have been a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, Wilton Manors police chief Gary Blocker said in a statement: "Today we know yesterday's incident was a tragic accident, and not a criminal act directed at anyone, or any group of individuals."