Florida Sen. Rubio Takes Up The Cause Of Uighur Minority In China
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So much is happening that it's easy to miss the news of up to 1 million people in Chinese prison camps.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The United Nations delivered that news recently. China has sent up to 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities to mass internment camps. That's a population roughly equal to the entire state of Montana or of Rhode Island, taken into custody. They're required to swear loyalty to China's president and renounce their faith.
INSKEEP: The Chinese government denies all this, we should say. Although they acknowledged that some Islamic extremists have been detained. Some U.S. lawmakers say they want sanctions against Chinese officials. One of those lawmakers is Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
MARCO RUBIO: If I told you that somewhere on this planet over a million people have been incarcerated, and have had to undergo what they sort of - efforts to strip them of their identity, their faith. That in pursuit of that goal, they have intimidated family members living within the United States and all over the world with threats about what would happened to their family back home if they didn't return. You would say, that's an outrage.
INSKEEP: How are people in the United States being intimidated?
RUBIO: Well, they'll go to a family member that's here. And they'll tell them that we know where your brother, your sister, your children, your husband, someone you love, we know where they are. And they arrest them until you agree to return, especially if you're out there as a journalist speaking or reporting about this. We had a lady give testimony at the joint commission that we have with the House on China, and talked about how her family members, including her parents, were jailed for an extended period of time because she was speaking out about the conditions on the ground.
INSKEEP: The Chinese government says, of course, they're trying to fight terrorism in a majority Muslim part of the country. Has the United States lost some credibility in criticizing China on that issue because of the way that President Trump has spoken about Muslims and policies he's pursued?
RUBIO: I think the president's policies have been largely geared towards banning entry from countries who don't have visa systems that can be verified, but...
INSKEEP: He started calling for a ban of all Muslim entry into the United States.
RUBIO: Well, but in the end, I mean, I think you're talking about in degree and scale here. It's not even comparable. No one here is being re-educated, jailed or forced to recant or change their faith. There is a big difference between rhetoric that we may or may not like and not agree with, versus the jailing of human beings and forcing them to abandon their identity.
INSKEEP: What leverage does the United States have to push China to change its behavior toward its own people?
RUBIO: Well, we know two things. No. 1, China doesn't like international condemnation. And we have a very loud voice on the global stage, and we should use it. And the other action that we can take is to implement global Magnitsky.
INSKEEP: Let's remind people. The Magnitsky Act allows the United States to sanction individuals suspected of human rights violations.
RUBIO: Human rights violations, correct. And we should use that tool to name and sanction individuals responsible for the implementation of this policy in that region.
INSKEEP: Does the United States have less leverage over China than it might otherwise because more than 20 years ago, the U.S. got China into the World Trade Organization? We do a lot of business with them. They can always look at the United States and say, hey, we're making money. You're making money. Shut up.
RUBIO: Yeah. I think there was a huge mistake made. And not so much just that, but there was a perception that prosperity would lead to a political opening. That has proven to be a catastrophic miscalculation. China has assumed all of the benefits of being involved in the global trade, and economic order, and even political order, but none of the responsibilities of it. And it's gone basically unchallenged for the better part of 20 years in that regard.
INSKEEP: Is it harder for you to get heard when you talk about those principles, given that there is a president who is so much louder who talks about power and talks about human rights in a very different way if he addresses them at all?
RUBIO: Well, somewhat. I mean, obviously -
INSKEEP: Just - likes authoritarians, doesn't seem concerned with freedom of the press.
RUBIO: Well, look. It would always be great to have a president who uses the pulpit and the megaphone of that office to highlight human rights. And Reagan did. Reagan did that quite often. In fact, he always linked human rights to the broader challenge of communism. But I also don't want to overlook the work that Sam Brownback is doing, and the work many people in the State Department are doing every day to highlight these issues.
And I also want to recognize that human rights is a tough issue in the daily life of Americans to really make a priority. Because while Americans are the most compassionate people in the world, there are millions of Americans who have a job. But that job doesn't pay what it once did compared to today's cost of living. So it's not that people don't care. I think they do that at a human level. But at a practical, political level, human rights has never been a top issue in this country - either the focus of politicians or the focus of the media.
INSKEEP: Senator Rubio, thanks very much.
RUBIO: Thank you.
INSKEEP: It's been a pleasure talking with you.
RUBIO: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.