Pompeo says US to rally support for Uighurs at UN

A Uighur woman pushes an electric bicycle in a crowded street in Kashgar in China's northwest Xinjiang region in June 2019

The United States will use this month's UN General Assembly to rally support for the Uighurs, whose treatment by China is among "the worst stains on the world," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

Pompeo said that China's mass incarceration of the predominantly Muslim ethnicity will be a priority for the United States at the annual summit of world leaders.

"We'll do a number of gatherings where our efforts will be to get other countries to sign up to help us call out this activity that is taking place," Pompeo said at Kansas State University.

"As I said before, this may end up being one of the worst stains on the world of this century. It's of that magnitude," he said.

"This is fundamentally not about national security for them, this isn't about Islamic extremism in western China. This is about freedom and dignity for individuals," he said.

Responding to a student's question about progress, Pompeo said that efforts were going "insufficiently" because the situation had not changed in China's western region of Xinjiang.

"Our tool-set is to identify the challenge and then to rally the world, and we have done so today with some success but not nearly enough," Pompeo said.

Rights groups and experts say more than one million Uighurs and people of other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities have been rounded up in Xinjiang. China is accused of forcibly trying to draw them away from Islamic customs and integrate them into the majority Han culture.

Chinese officials have described the camps as providing vocational training and said that "most" people have left, without sharing figures.

With the exception of Turkey, governments in the Islamic world have been relatively reticent about criticizing a rising China, to the dismay of activists.

But US lawmakers and campaigners say that President Donald Trump can also do more, such as imposing targeted sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the Uighur incarceration.

Trump is embroiled in a series of rows with China, especially a simmering trade spat that has spooked markets.