U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has determined that China's "morally repugnant" treatment of the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the country's Xinjiang region amounts to "crimes against humanity" and "genocide."
Pompeo made the official determination in a State Department news release Tuesday, just one day before President-elect Joe Biden's administration assumes power.
"After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People's Republic of China (PRC), under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," Pompeo wrote in the news release.
"These crimes are ongoing and include: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labor, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement," he continued.
"In addition, after careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that the PRC, under the direction and control of the CCP, has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," Pompeo added. "I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state."
On Tuesday during his confirmation hearing, Biden's pick for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he agreed with Pompeo's determination that China is committing "genocide."
Starting in 2017, reliable reports of ethnic cleansing and forced sterilization of Uighurs in Xinjiang started spreading, but Chinese officials continued to deny the accusations and hindered international observers from accessing the region.
Last summer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 13 tons of human hair from China that the agency said pointed to "potential human right abuses of forced child labor and imprisonment" of the Uighur population.
Also last summer, even after being confronted with damning and disturbing drone footage showing hundreds of Uighurs with shaved heads being led bound and blindfolded onto trains by soldiers, the Chinese ambassador to the U.K. still denied claims of ethnic cleansing.
The determination from the State Department is the strongest denunciation made by any country regarding China's actions and the latest in a series of blows the Trump administration has dealt against China of late. The move may also open the door to stricter sanctions against China under the Biden administration.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include remarks from Antony Blinken, Biden's nominee for secretary of state.