Mike Pompeo was a relentless China hawk during his term as US secretary of state. Photo: AFP

In the waning days of the Trump regime, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo capped the rising tide of anti-China rhetoric he had been pushing throughout his time in office by claiming that China was committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

No substantive evidence of this was presented, and as ever Pompeo’s inflammatory assertions were based on the fantasies of the fundamentalist Christian visionary Adrian Zenz and the repeatedly debunked claims of the “intelligence” analysts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). 

As President Joe Biden’s administration has assumed the reins of power in Washington there has been some hope that a new era in US-China relations might be in the offing. Biden has taken a number of steps to roll back policies and practices of Donald Trump’s program in many areas, from dealing with Covid-19 to immigration and climate change.

But if anything, the new American foreign-policy team seems intent on not just continuing Trump-era hostility toward China, but on further intensifying confrontation between the two countries. No reconsideration or repudiation of Pompeo’s allegations.

A report issued last week by the APM Research Lab, a private, nonpartisan organization, cast Pompeo’s sensationalist charges of genocide against the Uighur ethnic minority in China in a new light. The report was an analysis of Covid-19 death rates among different communities within the United States.

Its most shocking finding was that native Americans, the indigenous population of the country, dispossessed of their ancestral lands and long subjected to intensive cultural pressures to abandon their traditional beliefs and religious practices, are dying of the virus at double the rate of white Americans.

Reservations for native Americans are largely in remote areas of the country where poverty and lack of basic social services have long led to shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, and other serious public health concerns. In New Mexico, where I live, native Americans are dying in Covid-19 at nearly four times the national average rate.

The plight of America’s indigenous peoples is the result of a century and half of repression, neglect, and exploitation. These policies have been framed and carried out under both Democratic and Republican administrations and perpetuated by both parties in Congress.

The hypocrisy of the US government in pursuing its public campaign of accusation and condemnation of China for its supposed mistreatment of ethnic minorities, based on nothing more than rumors and outright fabrications, is truly appalling. 

American political and media elites are also intent on continuing their exclusive focus on China’s handling of the virus in the very first days when information about a new disease began to emerge in Wuhan.

The contrast between China’s handling of the outbreak, in which fewer than 5,000 people perished, and the American public health catastrophe, which will soon have yielded more than half a million deaths in a population less than a quarter the size of China’s, is seldom noted in American public discourse, except to condemn further the “harshness” and “authoritarian” quality of China’s policies. 

As the Biden administration settles in, there may still be some hope that US policymakers will decide to seek a more positive relationship with China, to share in China’s economic development and find ways to foster a future of greater prosperity for people not only in both countries but around the world.

But the US needs first and foremost to put its own house in order, to address the deeply rooted injustices of racism and economic oppression that plague its citizens, and to stop raising flimsy accusations of misdoings by China and other countries as a way of deflecting attention from, and avoiding responsibility for, its own shameful conduct. 

Kenneth Hammond

Ken Hammond is professor of East Asian and global history at New Mexico State University. He lived in Beijing from 1982-87, before completing his PhD in history and East Asian languages at Harvard University in 1994. He is currently associate editor of the Journal of Chinese History published by Cambridge University Press, and heads a research team working on the study of visual materials in Chinese local gazetteers at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.