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China should open up its borders for international monitors to probe reports of rights abuses in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, amid a growing global movement that has labeled the situation there as genocide.

Blinken’s remarks were delivered as part of testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about U.S. President Joe Biden’s top-level foreign policy initiatives for his administration.

“I think it would be very important, if China claims that there is nothing going on, that it gives access to the international community, to the United Nations,” Blinken said. “If they have nothing to hide, show it to us, show the world.”

Blinken said that the U.S. and other nations have an obligation to speak out against China’s policies in the XUAR and ensure they are neither importing goods from the region made with forced labor nor exporting good that can be used to further oppress minorities there.

Chinese officials have said the camps are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Under increasing international scrutiny, authorities in the region have begun to send detainees to work at factories as part of an effort to label the camps “vocational centers,” although those held in the facilities regularly toil under forced or coerced labor conditions.

On the last day of the former President Donald Trump’s administration in January, Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo–who met with Uyghur activists in the U.S. on Thursday–designated the situation in the XUAR as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” The Biden administration has embraced the label and vowed to pursue a more forceful approach in holding China accountable for its abuses in the region, while legislatures in Canada and the Netherlands have adopted measures embracing the designation.

Earlier this week, the first independent report to investigate claims of abuses in the XUAR, published by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, found that China has demonstrated “intent to destroy” the Uyghur ethnic minority, and therefore bears state responsibility for committing genocide, based on the U.N.’s 1948 Genocide Convention.

“We’ve been clear, and I’ve been clear, that I see it as genocide, other egregious abuses of human rights, and we’ll continue to make that clear,” Blinken said later in his testimony on Wednesday.

uyghur-wang-yi-lanting-forum-feb-2021.jpgChinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks at the Lanting Forum on China-US relations in Beijing, Feb. 22, 2021. AFP

Upcoming talks

Blinken’s comments came as State Department spokesman Ned Price announced that the secretary and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18. The genocide designation and access to the XUAR to investigate reports of abuses are likely to be on the agenda.

China in 2019 organized two visits to monitor internment camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”

During the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September last year, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told the gathering that these trips and the China-friendly accounts they produced were “Potemkin tours in a failed attempt to prove” that the camps were humane training centers.

In July 2019, after China’s ambassador to the U.N. invited its human rights czar Michelle Bachelet to visit the XUAR to “see for herself” what he called “education training centers” in the region, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) told RFA that she would not accept unless given access to the camps on her own terms.