In a rare agreement on foreign policy, President Biden and the former Trump administration both accuse the Chinese government of genocide against ethnic Uyghurs.
On his last day on the job, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released determinations that China committed crimes against humanity and "genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs."
Within hours, Pompeo's likely successor, Antony Blinken, was asked if he agreed with the State Department’s declaration during his nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"That would be my judgment as well," he said. "Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the Chinese Communist Party – all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dodged the question about the administration’s stance on the issue Friday, but referred to Biden’s previous comments calling China’s treatment of the Uyghurs "horrific."
During the presidential campaign in late August, the Biden campaign said in statement: "The unspeakable oppression that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms."
The same day Pompeo declared incidents in the Xinjiang region genocide, a Department of Homeland Security official told Fox News that the department’s general counsel's office has come to the same conclusion as the State Department, and will take appropriate measures.
A Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington called the U.S. accusations "a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law."
The embassy claimed the actions by China in Xinjiang "are not about ethnicity, religion or human rights, but about anti-violence, anti-terrorism, anti-separatism and de-radicalization."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by announcing sanctions on Pompeo and several other former Trump administration officials.
Several Biden cabinet members have already publicly denounced China’s actions against the Uyghurs.
Treasury Secretary designee Janet Yellen called China "our most important strategic competitor," while also accusing the country of "horrendous human rights abuses."
As the Chinese government continues its damage-control operation by attacking former Trump officials, it has reserved judgment on the Biden administration so far.
A former senior administration official told Fox News that the Trump State Department prepared potential sanctions against about a half-dozen senior Chinese Communist Party officials for the incoming Biden administration.
It’s not clear if the Biden administration favors taking such action.
Organizations fighting for the freedom of people in Xinjiang, as well as establishing an independent state welcome the move by the previous administration, expect Biden to continue the same policy.
East Turkistan Government in Exile, an organization claiming to represent the people of the region, called the decision by the outgoing State Department "the culmination of a years-long debate over how to punish what many consider Beijing’s worst human rights abuses in decades." The leader of the organization, Prime Minister Salih Hudayar, called on other countries to follow the U.S. and respond firmly to the genocide.
The land the Uyghurs have historically called East Turkistan has been occupied by China since 1949, and renamed Xinjiang.
"We firmly believe that without restoring East Turkistan’s independence, there is no way that we can safeguard the human rights [and] freedoms, yet alone the very survival of our people," Hudayar said. "We have filed a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court over this genocide. The evidence that we have submitted include killings of people, historically, in the past, and even killings of people recently."
Sairagul Sautbay told Fox News she was " forcibly taken to a concentration camp, where I was forced to work as a Chinese language teacher for inmates."
"I saw all the horrors there," she said via a note that was translated. "In order to exterminate the Kazakh, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, and other indigenous peoples of East Turkestan [sic], who had lived in their homeland since the time of their ancestors, the CCP imprisoned men and women, young and old, from all walks of life."
She added: "Genocidal policy of the CCP destroyed millions of families and turned East Turkestan into a large open-roof prison. This crime is a genocide committed by the CCP against humanity after World War II. In this concentration camp, I witnessed the horrors of countless innocent people. Their hopes were dashed, and they were greatly weakened by hunger, insomnia, and torture."
Experts say the issue will be a key test of the Biden administration.
Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese Business & Economics at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, predicts Biden will raise concerns but won't attack China’s interests directly.
"We will see the president speak up on human rights, and the U.S. will engage with allies to come up with joint approaches to these issues," he said. "This applies to Xinjiang, Hong Kong, China’s surveillance state and other human rights issues."
Gordon Chang, an expert in U.S.-China relations, believes the U.S. is obligated to take action.
"Biden, who said he would be tough on Beijing’s human rights violations, will have to act against Chinese genocide or pay a political cost for not doing so," Chang said. "Everyone will be watching."
Fox News' Rich Edson contributed to this report.