Over the course of US President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, the United Nations confirmed that Beijing has placed over 1 million Muslims in internment camps, The New York Times revealed that Chinese authorities are running the first artificial intelligence-powered effort to track minority citizens on the basis of race, and Chinese officials shifted from denying mass detention and surveillance to publicizing it as a wise response to terror.
Trade negotiations now appear to have collapsed, and instead of signing a deal as he was expected to this month, Trump is bludgeoning Beijing with fresh passion ― increasing tariffs he already imposed on over $200 billion worth of Chinese products and publicly listing other exports his administration might soon target. “We’ve been treated unfairly for many, many decades,” the president said on Tuesday. But amid his many remarks about resetting the U.S.-China relationship, Trump has yet to comment on the country’s nightmarish high-tech human rights crisis ― or to directly use American influence to pressure Chinese officials responsible for abuses.
While others in the Trump administration, from Vice President Mike Pence to State Department and Pentagon officials, have slammed the crackdown, the silence from the top and the lack of real action during the trade talks signals that the worst repression in China since the brutal Cultural Revolution isn’t central to U.S. dealings with Beijing.
That’s a choice with a real cost in human suffering. Delaying measures that could force a winding-down of the policy perpetuates China’s sense of impunity, lawmakers and activists say, and millions more people remain vulnerable to being spirited away into camps; the U.S. estimate of detainees is already more than double that confirmed by the U.N. back in September, at nearly 3 million. And it’s evidence that as Trump taps bipartisan frustration with how Washington has previously handled China’s relations with the...