On Friday during an interview with Axios, United States President Donald Trump stated that he held off on imposing sanctions against China for the mass detention of Uighur Muslims (also spelled Uyghur) in Xinjiang because the two countries were “in the middle of a major trade deal.”
In 2018, Trump declined approval for a Treasury Department plan that would sanction Chinese senior officials and companies that have profited from building the camps or the surveillance system used across the province to monitor Uighur Muslims. The plan would have also limited American sales of the surveillance technology.
In defense of his decision to not enact the 2018 sanctions, Trump explained, “Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal.
“And I made a great deal, US$250 billion potentially worth of purchases. And by the way, they’re buying a lot, you probably have seen.
“And when you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on – we’ve done a lot. I put tariffs on China, which are far worse than any sanction you can think of.”
As part of its trade war with China, the US imposed tariffs on more than US$360 billion worth of Chinese goods. China then retaliated by imposing tariffs on US$110 billion worth of US products.
A phase one trade deal was signed between the two countries in January this year, in which China pledged to open up its financial sector and purchase US$200 billion of additional American goods by the end of next year.
In the interview, Trump was pressed on why he didn’t sanction China with the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act, a law that allows the US government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.
Trump responded, “When you say the Magnitsky Act, just so you know, nobody’s mentioned it specifically to me with regard to China.”
“If somebody asked me, I would take a look at it. But nobody’s asked me. I have not been spoken to about the Magnitsky Act. So if somebody asks me about it, I’d study it. But at this moment, they have not asked me about it.”
Trump countered that he had signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 on June 17 of this year, with the legislation granting him authority to impose sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the detainment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. The Act also allows the Trump administration to freeze US assets of the officials in addition to imposing strict travel restrictions on them.
The criticism against Trump’s reluctance to sanction China comes amid allegations made by his former national security adviser John Bolton who wrote that Trump approved of China’s treatment toward Uighurs.
In Bolton’s tell-all book “The Room Where it Happened,” he writes that during the June 19 G-20 summit last year, Trump gave Chinese President Xi Jinping his approval for building camps for the detainment of Uighurs saying that it was “exactly the right thing to do.”
However, despite the criticism leveled against the Trump administration, in September 2019, the US Commerce Department and State Department imposed export restrictions on 21 Chinese state-owned entities and 16 other Chinese companies which it deemed complicit in the detainment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
The State Department has also imposed visa restrictions on Communist Party officials it holds responsible for the same.
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