WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said that China was responsible for the "stain of the century" of human rights abuses, citing mass detentions of Muslims and other minorities.
Pompeo denounced China for its large-scale detentions in the western Xinjiang region , where an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities are believed to be held in internment camps.
China is "home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time," Pompeo said at an international religious freedom conference that he hosted. He also accused China of intimidating countries into staying away from the gathering.
Chinese officials describe the Xinjiang camps as vocational training centers and say they are necessary to curb religious extremism.
Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, has made promoting religious freedom a priority since becoming America's top diplomat. But critics of the Trump administration have questioned the commitment, noting that its restrictive migration policies threaten religious minorities.
The conference was held just days after the International Rescue Committee and the U.N. refugee agency warned that the administration's sharp reductions in admissions of refugees and asylum-seekers put many, including religious minorities, at risk.
In a report released on the eve of the conference, the IRC said that so far this year the administration has slashed admissions of Iranian Christians by 97%, Iraqi Christians by 96%, Iraqi and Syrian Yezidis by 97% and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar by 77%, compared with the last government spending year of the Obama administration.
"The Trump administration cannot cheer on the world to protect religious minorities in one breath, while substantively cutting its own protections for these groups in the next," said Nazanin Ash, the group's vice president of Global Policy & Advocacy.
The Trump administration has also been criticized for not taking a tougher line on China's religious record by imposing sanctions. Some believe that administration officials have not taken that step for fear of endangering trade talks with China.
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the same conference, said U.S. trade talks with China would not get in the way of America's commitment to religious freedom.
"Whatever becomes of our negotiations with Beijing, you can be assured the American people will stand in solidarity of the people of all faiths in the People's Republic of China and we will pray for the day that they can live out their faith freely without fear of persecution," he said.