A bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday seeking to punish China over its "human rights abuses" of the majority-Muslim Uighur population in the country's west, a move that drew immediate anger from Beijing.
Legislation introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives seeks to toughen US President Donald Trump's administration's response to what the lawmakers say are gross violations of human rights in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
The bill urges US authorities to impose targeted sanctions on members of China's government, the ruling Communist Party and state security apparatus, as well Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and other officials "credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere."
China's Uighurs have faced unprecedented surveillance in recent years, and the United Nations has determined that up to one million Uighurs have been rounded up in detention camps.
Washington must hold government and Communist Party officials "responsible for gross violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity, including the internment in 'political reeducation' camps of as many as a million Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities," Senator Marco Rubio, a chief sponsor, said in a statement.
Fifteen senators in total, including Democrats Robert Menendez and Elizabeth Warren, are sponsoring the legislation. A companion bill was introduced in the House by congressman Chris Smith, an ardent critic of China's human rights policies.
Menendez described China's treatment of Uighurs as "beyond abhorrent," and urged Trump to formulate a "clear and consistent approach" to China.
The measure would mandate a US intelligence report on the regional security threat posed by China's crackdown; a list of Chinese companies involved in building and operating the camps; and an FBI report on efforts to protect Americans from Chinese government harassment.
It would also require a State Department report on the scale of the crackdown and beef up the department's monitoring of the region, and urge a review of US Commerce Department export controls.
Beijing delivered a scathing response.
"Where do US lawmakers get this inexplicable sense of superiority from, and how can they make irresponsible remarks about the internal affairs of other countries?" Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a briefing.
"Unfortunately, they always choose to ignore their own domestic issues while over-enthusiastically interfering with other country's domestic affairs with irresponsible remarks, which are based on incorrect information and strong ideological bias," she added.
The defense chiefs and top foreign affairs officials of the two countries met in Washington last week for a regular dialogue that had been pushed back amid months of spiraling tensions between the world's two largest economies.