Donald Trump told the Chinese president Xi Jinping that building concentration camps to "re-educate" Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang was the right thing to do, according to sensational claims in a new book by John Bolton, the former US national security adviser.
The White House has tried to block the release of The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. But an advance copy obtained by The Washington Post reports Mr Bolton's claim that Mr Trump backed the controversial camps during a conversation with Mr Xi at a G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, in 2019.
It is also claimed that the US president asked his Chinese counterpart to help him win the 2020 election by purchasing more agricultural products from the United States.
The alleged incident echoes Mr Trump's July 2019 request to Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky to "do us a favour" by announcing investigations into Joe Biden, the likely Democratic challenger in November's election.
Mr Trump was impeached over the incident but was acquitted by his Republican allies in the Senate – which had voted not to hear more evidence from Mr Bolton who had made clear he had relevant information.
During the G20 meeting, Mr Bolton wrote that Mr Xi defended China's construction of camps housing up to 1 million Uighur Muslims and that Mr Trump signalled his approval.
"According to our interpreter," Mr Bolton writes, "Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do."
Mr Bolton said that the conversation occurred during an opening dinner, attended only by translators, when Mr Xi explained "why he was basically building concentration camps" in the province where the Chinese Communist Party had been interning the ethnic minority.
While the account of the dinner came through the US interpreter, Mr Bolton writes that he was also told by another National Security Council official, Matt Pottinger, that Mr Trump said something similar during a 2017 trip to China.
The episode was part of what Mr Bolton describes as Mr Trump's callous lack of concern about human rights, with securing a second term the one goal that loomed above all else.
"I am hard pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn't driven by reelection calculations," Mr Bolton writes.
The claims came to light on the same day that Mr Trump signed into legislation the ability to sanction Chinese officials responsible for oppressing Uighur Muslims.
Mr Trump said in a statement on Wednesday that the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 holds "accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses".
"Such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labour, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uighurs and other minorities in China," Mr Trump said.
The US State Department believes Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups are held in the Chinese camps, and that they are reportedly subjected to torture, cruel and inhumane treatment such as physical and sexual abuse, forced labour and death.
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