By Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A new U.S. congressional committee on China held its second hearing on Thursday, highlighting what Washington says is an ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.
Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses, including forced labor, mass surveillance and having placed 1 million or more Uyghurs – a mainly Muslim ethnic group – in a network of internment camps in Xinjiang.
Congressman Mike Gallagher, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, told reporters ahead of the hearing that the situation in Xinjiang “should serve as a warning for what the world would look like under CCP leadership.”
China vigorously denies abuses in Xinjiang and says it established “vocational training centers” to curb terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism.
The hearing is the latest in a series of events planned for the next two years while Republicans control the House to convince Americans that they should care about competing with China, and to “selectively decouple” the countries’ economies.
The House panel heard from Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uyghur woman who, speaking through a translator, recounted her experience in what she said were years spent in camps where she faced abuse and forced patriotic education.
Qelbinur Sidik, an ethnic Uzbek assigned as a teacher in one such camp, also spoke through a translator, describing prison-like conditions in which she said detainees faced torture and interrogation.
Both women managed to travel to Europe where they now reside.
Testimony was also heard from Nury Turkel, a prominent Uyghur American lawyer, Adrian Zenz, a German researcher who has sought to document the extent of internment camps in Xinjiang, and Naomi Kikoler from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
A spokesperson for China’s Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said the committee’s planned witnesses have been “fabricating Xinjiang-related lies” based on ulterior political motives.
“We hope the American people can recognize the true face of these anti-China forces and not be misled by rumors and lies,” Liu said, adding that the human rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have been “protected to the fullest extent.”
The U.S. government and parliaments in Britain, Canada and other countries have described China’s birth prevention and mass detention policies in Xinjiang as genocide. A United Nations report last year said China may have committed crimes against humanity in the region.
The bipartisan committee will not write legislation but will make policy recommendations, at a time when a hard line toward China is one of the few policies with bipartisan support in the deeply divided U.S. Congress.
The holocaust museum’s Kikoler said the Chinese government was using subtle tactics to “intentionally destroy the Uyghur people,” including mass surveillance and detention, torture, the transfer of children, and limits on reproduction.
Zenz said that, while the Chinese government has said it closed camps in Xinjiang in recent years, these were lower-security “re-education” centers, while there appeared to be a coinciding expansion of higher-security prisons or forced labor facilities.
“We can assume that hundreds of thousands have been shifted into these facilities, which have been dramatically expanded,” Zenz said, adding that there were indications that mass internment peaked in 2018.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Edmund Klamann)