U.S. House backs bill to pressure China over Uighur rights

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday backed legislation calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the oppression of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority.

The tally was 413 in favor, and just one opposed. Since the legislation has passed the Senate, approval sent the bill to the White House where congressional aides said they expected Trump would sign it into law.

The vote was historic, the first use of a new system allowing proxy voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill calls for sanctions against those responsible for repression of Uighurs and other Muslim groups in China’s Xinjiang province. It singles out the region’s Communist Party secretary, Chen Quanguo, a member of China’s powerful Politburo, as responsible for “gross human rights violations” against them.

“Congress sent a clear message that the Chinese government cannot act with impunity,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who led the push for the legislation.

Relations between the Republican president and Beijing have become increasingly tense in recent weeks as Trump has blamed China for worsening the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure passed the Republican-led Senate by unanimous consent. The overwhelming majority in the Democratic-led House was far more than the two-thirds majority needed to override any veto.

The bill also calls on U.S. companies or individuals operating in the Xinjiang region to take steps to ensure their supply chains are not “compromised by forced labor” there.

“Today, with this overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation, the United States Congress is taking a firm step to counter Beijing’s horrific human rights abuses against the Uighurs,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslim Uighurs have been detained in camps. China denies mistreatment and says the camps provide vocational training.

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