State Department says China's repression of Uighurs is 'genocide'

Suppliers for tech giants have been accused of using forced Uighur labor in their factories.

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A rally outside the White House in August 2020 urging the US to end trade deals with China and take action to stop the oppression of the Uighur and other Turkic peoples.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The US State Department on Tuesday declared that the Chinese government is committing genocide against Uighur people and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in the country's northwestern Xinjiang region. The move is reportedly expected to be the Trump administration's final action against China, capping years of tension over human right abuses and trade. 

"I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state," said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in a statement on Tuesday. "The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group."

The Chinese government has detained as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities in Xinjiang in internment camps and prisons over the past three years, according to The New York Times. The State Department on Tuesday said China's ruling Communist Party is committing crimes against humanity against the Uighur people, including arbitrary imprisonment, forced sterilization, forced labor and restrictions on religion, expression and movement. 

The accusations against Beijing have had implications for technology companies.

The Chinese government has used surveillance technology including facial recognition in a myriad of ways to oppress Uighur Muslims. Tech giant Huawei and artificial intelligence company Megvii developed and tested facial recognition software that triggered alerts whenever the technology detected Uighur Muslims, The Washington Post reported in December. In October, the US Commerce Department put a prohibition on eight Chinese companies for contributing to human rights abuses against the minority population.  

Tech companies and their suppliers have also come under scrutiny over accusations of benefiting from forced Uighur labor. In December, longtime iPhone supplier Lens Technology, a maker of glass screens and coverings, was accused by a human rights group Tech Transparency Project of using forced Uighur labor in its factories. Lens Technology is also reportedly a supplier to Tesla and Amazon. Apple at the time said it has "zero tolerance" for forced labor and confirmed that Lens Technology hadn't received any labor transfers of Uighur workers from Xinjiang.