President Trump on Wednesday signed legislation authorizing sanctions to punish Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses against the country’s mostly Muslim Uyghur minority.
Trump quietly signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act without a public event.
The White House announced the bill signing about an hour after bombshell allegations in former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book that Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping he approved of “concentration camps” used to detain thousands of Uyghurs in western China.
In the statement, Trump said that act “holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China.”
Trump said in a signing statement that he will ignore an allegedly unconstitutional provision that limits his ability to lift travel restrictions against foreign officials.
The legislation was not controversial on Capitol Hill and passed the House 413-1 last month. It passed the Senate unanimously as US officials including Trump take an increasingly tough approach toward China for censoring early information about the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year.
Bolton’s allegations are made in an unpublished book, according to an excerpt published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets.
Trump allegedly told Xi during a June 2019 meeting in Japan that he approved of the camps to detain Uyghurs in what the Chinese government claims is an antiterrorism campaign.
“According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do,” Bolton writes.
Bolton also writes in the book that according to Matt Pottinger — a still-serving White House official, now deputy national security adviser — Trump also said he approved of the camps during a 2017 trip to China.
The Justice Department is seeking to block Bolton’s book from release, claiming in a lawsuit filed this week it contains classified information. Trump said last week that Bolton could face criminal penalties if he publishes the book without permission.
Bolton alleges that Trump also asked Xi to help him win the 2020 US election and told the autocrat that Americans are clamoring for him to do away with the Constitution’s two-term limit for American presidents.
White House and National Security Council spokespeople did not immediately comment on Bolton’s allegations.
The new Uyghur law passed in the House’s first use of proxy voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Many Republicans warned that bills passed using proxy votes ultimately may be struck down by the Supreme Court — even the widely supported China legislation.
“For more than 231 years, never have we seen a proxy vote on the floor of the House,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters last month. “Whatever the Democrats move forward will probably never be held up to be law.”
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