A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pompeo’s statement.
In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday afternoon, Pompeo described China’s actions as “the stain of the century,” and said his declaration represented “simply a continuation of the work this administration has done to try and convince the Chinese Communist Party to cease this terrible, terrible set of human rights violations that have been taking place.”
The declaration by the State Department marks an escalation of the outgoing Trump administration’s pressure on the Chinese Communist Party, which has interned more than a million Uighurs in work and reeducation camps across the northwestern region. Pompeo’s statement will also force President-elect Joe Biden to either uphold or rescind the eleventh-hour action.
The declaration comes less than a week after the Department of Homeland Security effectively banned imports of all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over concerns of widespread forced labor in the agricultural sector, which U.S. officials say is akin to “modern day slavery.” The consequences of those bans will be far reaching, as an estimated 1 in 5 global cotton products contain fibers from Xinjiang.
The House of Representatives has passed an even stronger bill that would ban any imports from Xinjiang unless companies can prove forced labor was not used in their production. That bill stalled in the Senate amid a lobbying campaign from apparel and technology companies, but it remains unclear whether the legislation will have a better chance of passage with a Democratic-controlled Senate.