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Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York. Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, evaded questions about China's genocide against Uyghurs during an interview last month, a coalition of 18 advocacy and rights groups sent a letter to the university but have received no response.

The big picture: The Chinese government is known to punish people who criticize its abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, leading to an epidemic of self-censorship among those with ties to the country.

What Sachs said: In a Jan. 24 interview with The Wire China, Sachs responded to two questions about China's genocidal policies in Xinjiang by accounting America's own human rights failings.

  • "We have huge human rights abuses committed by the U.S. on so many fronts that the first thing we need to do is think of Jesus’s admonition: Why do you look at the mote in the other’s eye, and not the beam in your own?" Sachs said.
  • Sachs said nothing about China's repression of the Uyghurs despite repeated prompting from the interviewer.

In response, 18 advocacy organizations, including Hong Kong Global Connect, Campaign for Uyghurs, and Columbia Stands with Hong Kong, sent a letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger expressing concern over the remarks.

What they're saying: "Professor Sachs aligns perfectly with the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ attempts to deny responsibility for their treatment of the Uyghurs by digressing to the history of U.S. rights violations, all the while avoiding discussions of their own," the letter's signatories wrote.

  • "By highlighting the perspective of the PRC government and trivializing the perspective of those oppressed by that government, Professor Sachs betrays his institution’s mission."

Bollinger's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Go deeper

Feb 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Canada's parliament declares China's persecution of Uyghurs "genocide"

Uyghur activists protest China's treatment of the Uyghurs in Vancouver, British Columbia in January 2020. Photo: Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Canada's House of Commons on Monday voted 266-0 to recognize China's documented campaign of mass internment, forced labor and forced sterilization of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang as a "genocide."

Why it matters: The vote will likely put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get tougher on China. Trudeau and most members of his Cabinet abstained from Monday's vote.

Rep. Katko calls on Biden to boycott Beijing Olympics

Rep. John Katko (R-NY). Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

John Katko (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is urging President Biden to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in response to China's acts of genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups.

What he's saying: "Participation in an Olympics held in a country who is openly committing genocide not only undermines those shared values but casts a shadow on the promise for all those who seek free and just societies," Katko wrote in a letter sent to Biden on Monday.

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.