Scott Simon talks to Democratic Congressman Thomas Suozzi of New York about the new bipartisan group he co-founded to draw attention to the plight of Uighurs.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The largest coordinated campaign of human rights abuse of the 21st century is how Congressman Thomas Suozzi characterizes the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs. More than a million members of the Muslim minority group are believed to be detained in China, often in brutal conditions. Mr. Suozzi, a Democrat, is a co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional Uyghur Caucus, which was formed this week, and now joins us. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.
THOMAS SUOZZI: Hi Scott. Thanks for inviting me.
SIMON: What do you want Americans to know about what is happening to the Uighurs as we speak?
SUOZZI: The American people and the world community must know that these are crimes against humanity. These are, this is a genocide that is taking place in the Xinjiang region, people in forced labor camps, forced sterilization, sexual abuse. It goes on and on.
SIMON: Congressman, I’m sitting here and I’m looking at pens, paper clips, cables, a watch, and my clothes, and I wonder if many Americans, including myself, don’t. Support this with the products we buy.
SUOZZI: You know, we’ve been going through a period of globalization for decades, and it’s been an effort trying to find the cheapest products we can anywhere. But in this case, it is even worse. It is cheaper to get products made with forced labor, like cotton, for example. China is one of the largest cotton producers in the world. Eighty-four percent of cotton in China comes from the Xinjiang region, where this forced labor takes place. We have to recognize that we cannot support this type of activity. And when we buy these products, we support them.
SIMON: Would you like to pass legislation to this effect? Is that possible?
SUOZZI: So we passed legislation in the House last term in Congress, but it got nowhere in the Senate, and we have to do it again. And that legislation would say that anything that comes from this region, it is presumed that that product was made with forced labor. Now, it is a rebuttable presumption. Companies might say, listen up; we can document that this was not done with forced labor. But the way it is now is completely the other way around, you know, we say we ban products that are made with forced labor, but it is very difficult to prove.
SIMON: What do you say to those Americans that they could say, look? this will only make the things we need cost more, and am I already exhausted?
SUOZZI: I have to be very frank with you. I’ve said it before, and it’s a shame. We have to do everything we can. And if it costs more for your shirt or your pair of jeans or your phone, I’m sorry, we can’t support this behavior. And I think most Americans, most people of goodwill around the world would support that philosophy.
SIMON: Mr. Suozzi, I wonder how you respond to what Chinese officials are saying, that the United States has its own long history of racism and intolerance and it simply does not have the moral standing to criticize human rights in China.
SUOZZI: Well, there is no question that America has a checkered history and that we have to constantly try and work to evolve to try and address it. Unfortunately, in China, if you dare to say that they are doing something wrong, you end up in jail or worse. I know of families that, you know, here in the United States who try to call their relatives, but they know that every word they speak is being surveyed by the Chinese Communist Party. And they have to be very careful because then their mother or grandmother will be imprisoned. Their husbands are being sent to forced labor camps. Chinese citizens are moving in with their wives. They are trying to erase their culture. They are trying to indoctrinate them. And they are trying to intimidate them. And, you know, they are succeeding to a great extent.
SIMON: Representative Thomas Suozzi from New York, thank you very much for being with us.
SUOZZI: Thank you Scott.
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