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Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

A cadre of bipartisan senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday to formally label the Chinese government's human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang as "genocide."

Why it matters: China has faced global backlash for its repression in Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities are subject to surveillance, torture and detention in mass "re-education" camps. But genocide is a serious crime under international law, and the U.S. invokes the formal label only in rare cases.

The state of play: Though China's government has denied claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang — defending the camps as vocational centers that teach skills to prevent the allure of Islamic radicalism — reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees reveal a sweeping campaign of repression.

  • The new bill refers to the estimated 1 million-plus Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim minorities in camps who were "forcibly transferred" out of Xinjiang to work in factories between 2017 and 2019.
  • A Canadian parliamentary committee concluded last week that China's population controls and other measures designed to eradicate Uighur culture amount to a policy of genocide, prompting a furious response by Beijing.

What to watch: If the Senate adopts the term "genocide," it will likely elevate tensions with China to a new level and escalate legal consequences in the U.S. and abroad.

Between the lines: The Biden campaign used “genocide” to refer to the Chinese government’s oppression back in August, saying the Democratic nominee “stands against it in the strongest terms.”

  • At the time, the White House was considering formally labeling it a genocide, but it has not yet taken the drastic step.
  • The Trump administration has, however, imposed a series of sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in the detention camps and it's designated companies that allegedly use Chinese forced labor to export blacklists.

What they’re saying: “As evidence is mounting of the Chinese government and Communist Party’s heinous crimes against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, we must be clear about the nature of these atrocities,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who introduced the resolution along with Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

  • “Stopping a genocide is consistent with our national security and our values, and it starts by standing up and speaking the truth," Menendez added. "I hope that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo will join us in calling this genocide by its name and responding to it with our partners in the international community.”
  • The UN defines genocide to include actions including killing, preventing births "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Go deeper: More countries join UN condemnation of China over Xinjiang abuses

Go deeper

Nov 17, 2020 - World

Scoop: State Department to release Kennan-style paper on China

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. State Department's Office of Policy Planning is set to release a blueprint for America’s response to China’s rise as an authoritarian superpower, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The lengthy document calls for strong alliances and rejuvenation of constitutional democracy. Axios obtained a copy.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

New deals in the COVID economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 is the macro horror of our lifetimes, and has destroyed or severely damaged countless businesses. But, like with most horribles, it also has created some opportunities.

Driving the news: Merck this morning announced an agreement to buy OncoImmune, a Maryland-based biotech that showed promising late-stage clinical results for a therapy that treats severe and critical coronavirus cases.

2 hours ago - Technology

Biden's openings for tech progress

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images 

Item No. 1 on President-elect Joe Biden's day-one tech agenda, controlling the flood of misinformation online, offers no fast fixes — but other tech issues facing the new administration hold out opportunities for quick action and concrete progress.

What to watch: Closing the digital divide will be a high priority, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely.