Trump encouraged China to build concentration camps, John Bolton says

Trump encouraged China to build concentration camps, John Bolton says
US Embassy Canberra / Public domain

Despite the cowardice John Bolton displayed in refusing to testify during the impeachment proceedings, his forthcoming book appears to be a genuinely important contribution to the public understanding of President Donald Trump's White House.


As I noted in a list of details from a New York Times summary of his book's biggest highlights, Bolton has alleged that Trump ran foreign policy along multiple avenues for his own personal benefit, rather than in the nation's interest. But a new excerpt printed in the Wall Street Journal may reveal the most disturbing and ghastly piece of news from the book: Trump encouraged China's construction of concentration camps for its Uighur minority.

The reluctance from the Trump administration to criticize China's rampant abuse of the Uighurs has been one of the great shames of his presidency, tempered only by the fact that it's not clear what the United States could do on the Uighurs' behalf. But according to Bolton, Trump didn't just ignore the human rights abuses of this vulnerable Muslim population. He encouraged them:

Beijing’s repression of its Uighur citizens also proceeded apace. Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China over its treatment of the Uighurs, a largely Muslim people who live primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province.

At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting in June 2019, with only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do. The National Security Council’s top Asia staffer, Matthew Pottinger, told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China.

This is horrifying: an American president giving his seal of approval to a massive violation of human rights. Trump, of course, has also overseen his own form of concentration camps and widespread violation of human rights at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bolton also noted Trump failed to embrace the pro-democracy activities in Hong Kong, an omission that happened in plain sight:

I hoped Trump would see these Hong Kong developments as giving him leverage over China. I should have known better. That same month, on the 30th anniversary of China’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Trump refused to issue a White House statement. “That was 15 years ago,” he said, inaccurately. “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal. I don’t want anything.” And that was that.

What was Trump's priority, if not promoting human rights and democracy? That question almost answers itself: his own re-election. Bolton recounted:

In their meeting in Osaka on June 29, Xi told Trump that the U.S.-China relationship was the most important in the world. He said that some (unnamed) American political figures were making erroneous judgments by calling for a new cold war with China.

Whether Xi meant to finger the Democrats or some of us sitting on the U.S. side of the table, I don’t know, but Trump immediately assumed that Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility to China among the Democrats. Trump then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability and pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. He stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.

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