President Joe Biden said he discussed human rights issues in part of a two-hour-long conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping during CNN’s presidential town hall.

Biden mentioned this amidst talks about the human rights violations for China’s alleged internment of the Uyghur Muslim population in the Western autonomous region of Xinjiang.

“We must speak up for human rights, it’s who we are,” Biden said.

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“If you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been, the time when China has been victimized by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home… The central principle of Xi Jinping is that there must be a united, tightly controlled China. And he uses his rationale for the things he does based on that.”

When asked if China will face any repercussions for the alleged human rights abuses, Biden replied that the U.S. will continue to “reassert [its] role as spokespersons for human rights at the U.N. and other agencies” and that there “will be repercussions for China” but he never specified what those repercussions would be.

But at the same time, Biden also said it is important for leaders to abide by the cultural values and norms of their nation. 

“I point out to him, no American president can be sustained as a president if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States…I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uyghurs in western mountains of China, and Taiwan trying to end the one China policy by making it forceful…he gets it. Culturally there are different norms to each country, and their leaders are expected to follow.” 

In recent years, China has received international scrutiny for the alleged internment of millions of Uyghurs. The New York Times released parts of “more than 400 pages of internal documents” that suggest China allegedly organized a mass detention program.

The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. also received backlash after posting a tweet regarding Uyghur women.

The tweet, which has now been removed from Twitter, said:

“Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uyghur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

The tweet included a link to a report published by the Xinjiang Development Research Center. According to China Daily, the report attributed “decreases in the birthrate and natural population growth rate in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in 2018” to the “eradication of religious extremism.”

China has responded to these allegations by claiming they were working to remove religious extremism from the minds of the Uyghur ethnic minority population and that Uyghurs were sent to reeducation camps. 

Chinese officials commonly refer to these detention camps as “boarding schools” or officially, a “vocational skills education center.” 

One document, which was purportedly given out to Chinese government officials, includes instructions on how to respond if an Uyghur child asks about the disappearance of their family members. 

The corresponding sample response instructs Chinese government officials to say: 

“They’re in a training school set up by the government to undergo collective systematic training, study and instruction. They have very good conditions for studying and living there, and you have nothing to worry about.” 

Another sample response instructs officials to say: 

“Your family member has been sent to study because they have come under a degree of harmful influence in religious extremism and violent terrorist thoughts,” if asked why their family members have to take part in the ‘training school’.

Written ByLinn Win

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