The audio file of this briefing is available here.
Moderator: Thank you. Good day, everyone, from the U.S. Department of State Asia-Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I’m Zia Syed, the Hub Director, and I would like to welcome our participants dialing in for this briefing.
Today we are pleased to be joined from Washington D.C. by Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the Department of State. We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador Currie. We will try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes. Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Currie. Please go ahead.
Ambassador Currie: Hi. This is Kelley Currie. Thank you so much all of you for tuning in. And it’s a pleasure to be with you this evening – morning your time for those in Asia — to talk about an issue that is really important to us at the State Department and which increasingly has taken on a critical nature across our work. And that is, first of all, that this is the 20th anniversary of the Women, Peace, and Security Resolution in the Security Council, UNSCR 1325. And so, we’ve been using this month of anniversary on women, peace, and security to look at what are the current gravest threats to the women, peace, and security agenda that we are all working so hard to implement.
As you may know, the United States was a leading supporter of this resolution when it was first brought into the Security Council in the year 2000, and we’ve continued to be a leader in the area of women, peace, and security over the past two decades and continue, including up to this administration where President Trump – when he signed the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017. The United States became the first country in the world with comprehensive, national legislation that formalized our commitment to women, peace, and security.
And our office has been working very diligently since that time to implement that legislation. And one of the charges that the Secretary and the White House has given us – our office in particular as the coordinating node for the women, peace, and security agenda – our support for this agenda is also very clearly laid out in our National Security Strategy as a strategic imperative for the United States. And it relates directly to how we partner with other countries. Partnership is a huge part of it.
And so, one of the things that we have been really diligently looking at is where the multilateral gaps are on women, peace, and security. And what we’ve found most recently, especially this year, and where we’ve really been focused over the past few months is on some of the really serious challenges and what we would say, I guess, are failures on the part of multilateral institutions to deal with some of the biggest ongoing, threats to women, peace, and security.
One of the things that we’re looking at from a policy perspective, as we continue to implement our own agenda on women, peace, and security and work with partners, is: Where are those grave threats coming from? And for instance, when we look at the role that Iran plays, where they are repressing women’s rights at home and then they’re also creating chaos, instability, and conflict in countries all around them, and all around the region that threaten women in very specific and clear ways and undermine women’s security, undermine women’s political participation, undermine women’s safety. And so, how can we tackle these more complex problems, even as we’re still continuing to work on the day-to-day challenges of making sure that women are present in negotiations at peace processes, and have meaningful participation, making sure that justice is pursued for victims and survivors of sexual violence and armed conflict?
So, we continue to work across those lines of effort. But we’re also looking at these big policy challenges. And one of the reasons we wanted to do this call with this Manila Media Hub and Asian media was because one of the things that we’ve really zeroed in on is the role that malign actors, beyond Iran, are playing in terms of how they’re undermining the overall environment, and the overall baseline of the agenda on women, peace, and security. And we see this in cooperation between Russia and China, whether it’s in the Security Council, or in the East Asia Summit, or in different forums. We see these countries aligning to weaken the baseline on women, peace, and security, to undermine the protections and the resolutions that have been passed that built on 1325 over the past 20 years, and try to weaken them and to try to change the fundamental basis for these things to try to marginalize civil society participation and other things.
And then we see also how the Chinese behavior and the treatment of women in Xinjiang in particular constitutes a major threat, especially as it works its way along – as it is connected to the Belt and Road Initiative. And so, I’m happy to talk a little bit more about that. I think that sometimes this is not an obvious thing for people to grasp how this relates to our work, but for instance, some of the recent reporting – and documentation that has come out has indicated that – especially in the area of forced population control, where the authorities in Xinjiang are using well-known and well-established practices from the one-child policy, that are no longer being used in the rest of China vis-a-vis the Han population, but are now being targeted at the Uyghur population, for instance.
So, we’re seeing these things, and this is something that we consider to fall within the area of sexual violence and gender-based violence, the targeting of women and coercive family planning and forced abortion, forced sterilization, this kind of thing. Together with what we have heard with regard to forced labor of women, large-scale detention, mistreatment in detention including sexual violence in detention. And some of the other challenges, where we see women who are at home with their children being subjected to intrusive home visits from Chinese Communist Party cadre and some other things that we see as part of a pervasive pattern of targeting women, especially their roles as cultural transmitters and as trying to hold families together in this very intense environment.
So, with that, I will happily answer questions from this group, and look forward to hearing – to being able to talk about some of these topics with you tonight, or this morning, as it were.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We will now indeed begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. And just a reminder, if you’re asking a question, to please state your name, media affiliation, and location. So, the first question we’re receiving is – we’ll turn it over to Nhu Nguyen from OEC media outlet in Vietnam. Nhu, if you could please go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Can you hear me?
Ambassador Currie: Yes.
Question: Okay. This is my question for you. According to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which was adopted in the aftermath of Second World War, in the Article II, that says, “Intent to destroy in whole or in part, national, ethnical, racial, or religious groups” constitutes genocide. So, do you think the action of the Chinese government are – that forced them to have abortions, or having intra-uterine contraceptive device inserted without their consents is illegal according to the Convention article? And can China – be put on trial on genocide for this?
Ambassador Currie: Well, I think this is a complex, legal and factual issue that the United States continues to examine as evidence comes in. These are very serious crimes and very serious allegations that we’re seeing, and we take them very seriously. We are looking at the facts and looking at the law, including the requirements under the Genocide Convention and under other legal instruments as we continue to try to understand what is going on here.
What I would say is that the Secretary of State makes these determinations as a matter of course, when the facts and the law indicate that it’s prescribed. What we would really like to see right now, in particular, is the United Nations, which was created at the same time as this Genocide Convention, as we all know, in the wake of World War II after horrific human rights abuses of the type that the world had never seen before, and on a scale, and with an intent to destroy a group – and so one of the whole reasons the United Nations was created was the whole idea of never again, that we would never see this kind of activity take place.
And yet we’ve seen over and over again the UN has failed to stop genocides when they are happening. They’ve failed to prevent them when they were happening, whether we’re talking about Bosnia or Rwanda, Syria, Iraq with ISIS and the Yazidis. So, what we’re seeing right now is the UN again failing to speak out about the situation in Xinjiang, failing to demand access in a meaningful way to investigate these very serious and very credible allegations, and to try to help the world to understand better what’s going on. Instead, we see the UN signing lots of agreements with the Chinese Government to help them facilitate their Belt and Road projects, but not really interested in investigating what’s happening on that Belt and Road, and at the railhead of that Belt and Road. The Belt and Road starts in Ürümqi in Xinjiang — that’s where it goes out from.
And so, it really is remarkable to me, as someone who used to work at the UN and used to represent the United States there, the complete lack of curiosity or concern that we see from the United Nations on what are very grave allegations of very widespread and quite disturbing human rights abuses.
Moderator: Thank you very much. As we wait for others to join the question and answer queue, Ambassador, I wanted to ask you a question that we received in advance. It’s actually following up on what you were referring to. So we got a question in advance from Li Xiang from Hong Kong from Shijieguan.net, and Li was asking: “Can you please explain the evidence that you have for what is happening in Xinjiang? Have you been to Xinjiang? How can you prove what is happening there? I would like to ask what is the source of your information.” So, I was hoping, Ambassador, if you could speak on that a little bit.
Ambassador Currie: Sure. The sources of the information that we’re looking at is, of course, the United States gathers its own information — some of which we gather from open source, and others, that we gather through other sources, just like every country. But we have looked at – there’s been a number of academic and research reports that have been issued, as well as media outlet reports citing satellite imagery, as well as on-the-ground visits by journalists. You can pull them up online and see journalists going to the facilities, and then see how they’re located on the satellites, how you can see imagery that’s been taken over time about how these prisons, and these detention places have developed.
But the most interesting, and we find credible, information, which we independently authenticate, is the Chinese Government’s own documents are really what has helped us to most especially understand what is going on here. Because the Chinese Government, like every bureaucracy – and the Chinese Communist Party is no different from this – they have gazettes, and they have instructions that they send out to the field about how to implement policies, and we know what the policies are of the Chinese Communist Party because they publish them, and they give speeches, and these are available. They’re usually in Chinese and so you have to be able to read the Chinese language sources, and this is one of the ways that this information often stays hidden from the non-Chinese-speaking world. But’s it’s right there in plain sight most of the time.
And so you look at what the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party are saying to themselves, what they’re sending out to the field, the instructions that are going out, whether it’s family planning regulations that are being pushed out, or speeches from senior officials, or official statistics that document the dramatic decline in Uyghur birthrates from 2018 or 2017 to the present, and show birthrates of Han Chinese in the same prefectures going up dramatically, even as Uyghur birthrates in those same prefectures are declining. And then you find the documents dated 2017, 2016 instructing local cadre to crack down hard on birth violations, on illegal births.
And we know from the dramatic and long history of how the Chinese Communist Party has implemented the one-child policy over the past 70 years. We have tremendous evidence about how those policies were implemented. And so, when you see those same policies being implemented against the Uyghur population in very clear and specific ways, and you see, for instance, the number of surgical sterilizations skyrocketing from one level to a next, and the percentage of the budget being spent on security services for internal security matters in Xinjiang being larger than provinces with five, six times the population. Again, the Chinese have been very careful about what they’ve allowed the world to see, and they have pushed out a narrative that they are countering terrorism, that they are engaged in poverty alleviation.
But we know what a counterterrorism program looks like. This is not a counterterrorism program. You don’t detain everyone — every male at a certain age — in detention and not let them out until you’re satisfied that they’ve been cured of the, quote, “virus” of their extremism. And you don’t label “extremism” as normal religious practice. The normal practice of Islam has been labeled as “extremism” in Xinjiang.
So, it has created an environment where anybody who tries to practice their religion in a normal way is being rounded up and put in detention and re-educated – and stripped of their ethnic and religious identity, and then forced to work and sold as almost indentured servants through these online marketplaces and sent all over China. This is all well documented by a number of both independent media and independent research organizations. And it’s all backed up, again, by satellite imagery. And that has all been verified, and by Chinese sources, Chinese language government source documents that we have been able to authenticate through using experts who are experts in authenticating Chinese government documents.
So, we feel very comfortable saying that there are very serious allegations here and what we have been able to ascertain. But again, the Chinese – the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been waiting for several years to be given access to Xinjiang. Their constant Potemkin tours, where journalists or government officials from countries are taken to tour these facilities, and they’re shown only a small part of the facility – and we’ve now got some documentation that indicates that there are certain facilities that have been set up specifically for this purpose.
And again, I want to remind you as journalists that this is not the first time that an authoritarian regime — an expansionist, authoritarian regime — has set up Potemkin villages to convince, whether it’s the International Committee of the Red Cross or the UN or whoever, journalists – Edgar Snow comes to mind – this is not the first time China has set up Potemkin villages to convince people that everything is fine, when in fact it is not.
So, this is part of the problem when you have a country that does not have an open and free press like we do here in the United States. Where it is a crime to criticize the Chinese Communist Party or its leadership – that can get you disappeared. And so, I think that it’s very hard for us to take seriously the narratives that are coming out of China that they use to justify what they will admit is going on. And then when we get the documentation of what we see – the documents, the satellite imagery, and then the reporting, and then the eyewitness accounts also are incredibly harrowing. And I’ve met some of these survivors and heard their stories. And they’ve been examined by doctors.
This is not an elaborate scam that the United States is trying to perpetrate on the world. This is real. And I think the fact that the Chinese Communist Party has not allowed unfettered access, that they’ve kicked out western journalists who have tried to look into this, and reduced dramatically the amount of western journalists who are in China today looking at these issues, is further evidence that there is something that they are trying to hide, and they’ve gone on a massive propaganda spree to try to push back on this independent reporting.
And I can tell you, I’ve been working on human rights for 25 years, and before I rejoined the United States Government, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm within a lot of quarters, oftentimes, for hearing these human rights stories because they complicate our ability to deal with countries that we have to deal with. So, if you think that we are out there as a government trying to create problems for ourselves by having to deal with the fact that massive human rights abuses are going on – you don’t really understand how foreign policy works if you think that.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Next, if we could go Ben Westcott from CNN in Hong Kong. Ben, please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thank you very much for taking the time today, Ambassador Currie. I really appreciate you speaking to us. I just have a really quick question. You said you are actually investigating claims of a mass campaign against women, which obviously we’ve written about at CNN. If those claims of genocide-like behavior by officials in China are verified, can you give me an idea what sort of actions the U.S. would take against China for that, what sort of special sanctions or new repercussions they might face?
Ambassador Currie: Well, I can tell you that we’ve already taken action on the basis of what we believe to be credible reporting on the forced population control, that this was certainly a factor that went into a number of the recent actions that we’ve taken over the past few months. Whether it was the Global Magnitsky sanctions that we issued – and in particular GLOMAG sanctions on individual leaders and then on Bingtuan, on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which plays a huge role in the whole political economy of Xinjiang and in the colonial infrastructure of Xinjiang, as it were. So, we’ve already taken a number of steps there. And the human rights basis for many of these steps included the credible allegations that we’ve seen around forced population control.
Likewise, the business advisories, the additions to the entities list, and then we continue to – I’m not going to preview additional sanctions or anything like that, or additional steps we might take. But just suffice to say that we continue to evaluate what will be the most effective and appropriate steps for us to take as more information comes to light, and including as we are able to discern where the nexus of authorities are in terms of what’s driving these policies, and how they’re being implemented across the region.
Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador. We probably have time for one or two more. Next, if can we go to Raquel Carvalho from the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Raquel, please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Good morning. Thank you very much. Could you talk a bit more about female forced labor in Xinjiang? What are the aspects you are looking into? And, is the U.S. State Department planning to exercise any further pressure on international companies that have part of their supply chains there? Thank you.
Ambassador Currie: Again, we are in a constant process, together with the Department of Homeland Security, which manages our Customs and Border [Protection], and with our Department of Commerce, and our Department of Treasury. This is an interagency effort to understand how our companies, how U.S. companies, can help address concerns about their supply chains and making sure that they do not have supply chains that implicate forced labor or other human rights abuses. And we’ve been very clear with businesses. We’ve sent out business advisories. We’ve done direct outreach to business communities, whether it’s through our Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach, or our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, or some of the other things that we’re doing to just make sure that businesses – and then of course the Treasury Department’s regular advisories, the Commerce Department’s notifications around entities lists. All of these things have definitely caused many companies to take a second look at their supply chain and to determine whether they have confidence about their supply chains in China, and in particular when they are aware of supply chains that touch Xinjiang. And the thing that’s really complicated here in a certain sense, if you look at the Bingtuan and the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps – there are thousands of subsidiaries and shell companies and holding companies.
And then, the other thing that’s really interesting – and again, this is a well-established practice, this is not something that just happens in the context of Xinjiang. But, the mutual aid relationship that the Chinese Communist Party uses as part of its development model, where the wealthier, coastal provinces are meant to provide mutual aid to the poor inland provinces – and there’s been a special mutual aid targeted at Xinjiang as the detainees were being released from detention and were basically told, you can leave detention, but you have to go an get a job. And we will find you the job and you will go where you are sent, and we’ve seen these online marketplaces.
And they basically say, we have this many men, this many women. These are the age ranges. Tell us what your – they’ve been given, quote, “military-style training,” they will follow instructions, they are, quote, “used to hardship.” They use the Chinese phrase for, they’re used to “eating bitterness,” and they are used to – they describe them as basically, here is your model, pliable workforce that you can basically make them do anything. And this is how these laborers are marketed in groups of 50 or 100. Basically, you tell the company in coastal China or somewhere that there’s a factory – they order up women or men based on their needs, and the contract gets filled by a supplier at the local level in Xinjiang that’s working through this mutual aid network.
So, we’re trying to understand some of these things because the traditional definitions of things like forced labor or trafficking, or prison labor – some of these things don’t necessarily fall neatly into these terms as the ILO defines them. And so, we’ve had one of our engagements with the ILO, they said, look, we don’t really know how to characterize this. It’s definitely not a voluntary arrangement where people are at-will employees, but you need like a new term for what’s going on here.
So, we’re really trying to understand the coercive elements. We’re also looking at specific things like the monetization, for instance, of women’s hair, which we’ve seen is a whole other thing that we’re trying to understand. Like, with this, customs seized 13 tons of human hair at the border that was marketed as coming from Xinjiang, and was marked clearly that it had come from Xinjiang, and it was marked as virgin hair. It was really crazy. And so again, we’re trying to understand what’s that about? Where is that coming from? But a lot of this is very opaque. Again, it’s very difficult to investigate these things. Companies are finding it very difficult to understand what’s going on with their own supply chains. The Chinese side is not making it very easy to do.
So, we are trying to help businesses to understand what we know, and be as clear about what we can tell them and what we can’t tell them, frankly. And then they’ve got to make their own decisions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. So, if it’s okay, we’re going to wrap up the call here, Ambassador Currie. I was wondering if you had any final remarks that you could pass on.
Ambassador Currie: Thank you for the great questions. I really appreciate it. Clearly, this is a subject that we’re continuing to look into, and we’re happy to continue to provide additional updates and briefings. And if you want to work through the Media Hub or through GPA [the State Department’s Bureau of Global Public Affairs] to reach out to us on any specific follow-up, we would be happy to do that.
This is important, and we’re very concerned, obviously. I think the action that we’ve taken, which frankly — we continue to be the leader in the world in taking actual concrete action to target those who are responsible for perpetrating these abuses and these human rights violations. And so we are trying to get other countries certainly to look at this issue seriously to understand the dire nature of this, and to understand that this kind of abuse, this kind of behavior, stays contained within the borders of the country that’s perpetrating it.
And when you do have a power like China that is going out all over the world selling itself as a model for developing countries and pushing this Belt and Road agenda across much of the developing world, and all of the things that come along with the Belt and Road initiative, countries need to know what they’re getting into. And the role that, how this model – how the practices here are undermining human rights, undermining women’s rights, and are lowering the standards globally.
Moderator: Thank you very much. That will conclude today’s call. I want to thank Ambassador Kelley Currie, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the Department of State. Please stay on the line for information regarding access to an audio recording of the call. Also, please be aware that a transcript of the call will be posted to our social media platforms and sent out to all of you within a day.
If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thank you very much.