The United States had never gone so far in their words.
On Tuesday, outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured that China "is committing genocide" against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
He also denounced the “crimes against humanity” perpetrated “since at least March 2017” by the Chinese authorities against this Muslim minority.
Following an internal legal process at the State Department, new sanctions against Beijing may be taken by Washington.
"Absurd lies", reacted China on Wednesday, making fun of the accusations of the Secretary of State.
However, this decision could push other countries to position themselves on the fate of the Uyghurs.
Analysis of the issues behind this communication from Washington with Antoine Bondaz, researcher specializing in China at the Foundation for Strategic Research and lecturer at Sciences-po.
How does the use of the expression “genocide” by the United States change?
The term genocide is a legal term defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed in particular by China.
It is based on five extremely framed criteria which go beyond the mass murder of a population, as one might think.
Imposing measures aimed at preventing births within a group, for example.
However, there has been a debate for months on whether we can qualify what is happening in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region as genocide.
This would be the case, in particular, if the accusations of forced sterilization of Uyghurs were true, but it is very difficult to establish because China will never participate in an international investigation.
For the first time, a political decision-maker considered that the Uyghurs are not only victims of a crime against humanity but also of genocide.
In fact, the United States will be able to take unilateral measures against China.
Why has the plight of the Uyghurs recently become an issue of public debate?
Today, we are talking about the repression of the Uyghurs because the media and NGOs are providing more and more evidence and damning elements against Beijing.
The testimonies of survivors are multiplying, official Chinese documents prove an organization of repression and satellite images show the expansion of camps.
In France, this subject has taken on an important dimension because it has emerged from the political debate and has become a mobilization issue for civil society.
For example, actors and athletes have taken a stand on the issue, and young people have taken an interest in the fate of the Uyghurs.
In support of the Uyghurs, Antoine Griezmann breaks his partnership with Huawei
EU policymakers and businesses are now under pressure, because tomorrow consumers could, for example, say they don't want to buy clothes or shoes without guarantees that the cotton they use does not come from forced labor. Uyghurs.
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Why are the United States so mobilized on this subject?
Donald Trump embarked on a campaign of pressure on China on all subjects as soon as he came to power in 2016. It has been a while since there has been a dynamic of deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing.
Taking a position on this subject does not change much from this point of view.
Trump and Congress unanimously adopted sanctions banning all imports of cotton and tomatoes that come from Xinjiang, considering them to be the forced labor of Uyghurs.
They also targeted Chinese political leaders in the region responsible for the crackdown, such as the provincial party secretary, freezing their assets and denying them access to the United States.
Could the decision of the United States have an impact internationally?
The question that now arises is: will other countries like those of the European Union or the United Kingdom follow and also take strong measures?
But Washington is in a position where it is easier to criticize China, because Americans are much less dependent on their trade with China.
However, the European Union is worried about the countermeasures that Beijing could take in the event of similar sanctions.
But the current dynamic is one of growing awareness.
The more overwhelming elements and the mobilization of civil society, the more governments will be forced to take a stand.
The arrival of Joe Biden to power will she change the position of the United States on the subject?
The Democrat will not be in direct confrontation like Trump was, and should move closer to Beijing's allies and partners. China will therefore have to completely revise its arguments. But his administration will remain just as mobilized against the repression of the Uyghurs, as he has already said during his campaign. Only its tools will change, as it will likely use multilateralism or build international coalitions, which China fears much more. Because if only the United States takes sanctions against him, the Chinese authorities can present this decision as part of the Sino-American rivalry. But if an international coalition with states that are not in confrontation with Beijing - like European countries - adopts sanctions against the repression of the Uyghurs, it will be much more difficult to manage politically. Finally, Xinjiang represents a large number of exports for Beijing and if these great nations stop importing products made in this province, it will have a cost for the country.