US report calls for sanctions on China for human rights abuses, influence operations

By GERRY SHIH | The Washington Post | Published: January 8, 2020

BEIJING — A U.S. government commission led by bipartisan lawmakers urged the Trump administration to enact sanctions against Chinese officials and companies for human rights abuses and develop stronger policies to counteract what it called China's intensified political influence operations abroad.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China argued for tougher and more cohesive U.S. action against Beijing in a new annual report that detailed the Chinese government's crackdown against religious minorities and labor activists, its expansion of digital surveillance and censorship, and its political influence activities around the world.

"Rising authoritarianism in China is one of the most important challenges of the 21st century," said the commission, which is led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

The agency is mandated to monitor human rights in China under a U.S. law passed in 2000 as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organization. At the time, proponents of China's WTO entry said it would gradually usher greater political and trade liberalization into China.

Two decades later, Beijing has instead "expanded a costly and elaborate authoritarian system designed to intimidate, censor, and even imprison Chinese citizens for exercising their fundamental human rights," said the report released Wednesday.

The commission's recommendations reflected growing wariness toward America's largest trading partner and the rapidly shifting discourse in Washington over the past 18 months as President Donald Trump waged a bruising trade war.

While the commission's previous reports focused on China's domestic situation, Wednesday's document contained stark new warnings about the threat of what it called China's "intensified use of disinformation, propaganda, economic intimidation and political influence operations."

Congress should require U.S. universities, think tanks and nongovernmental organizations to disclose major gifts from foreign sources and expand scrutiny of Chinese government influence in American classrooms via student groups and on-campus organizations such as China's state-funded Confucius Institutes, the commission said.

It warned, however, that the U.S. government's statements and policies should "clearly differentiate between the Chinese people and culture and the Chinese government and Communist Party" to prevent the targeting of Chinese Americans or the Chinese diaspora.

China consistently dismisses U.S. criticism of its human rights record as meddling in its domestic affairs. Beijing also views U.S. efforts to exhort countries to condemn Chinese behavior as Cold War-era thinking and has rallied its own partners, including many Muslim-majority countries, to defend its Xinjiang policies.

"For a long time, the so-called 'commission' has been wearing 'tinted glasses' and slandering China with groundless accusations, which has no objectivity or credibility," China's Foreign Ministry said in a faxed statement.

"We urge the United States to reflect more on its own human rights issues, stop purposely distorting and smearing China, and to stop the words and deeds which harm the two countries' mutual trust and cooperation."

The commission recommended that the Trump administration take several steps that would likely deeply anger Beijing, including enforcing Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Chinese officials involved in the repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, the northwestern region of China where Beijing has detained an estimated 1 million Uighurs for political reeducation.

The body also called on the administration to build "global alliances" to resist China's export of surveillance technology and ideology and tighten access by Chinese companies to American capital markets and sensitive technology.

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