China possibly carried out genocide against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in its northwestern region of Xinjiang, a bipartisan commission of the US Congress said in its report on Thursday.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China said "new evidence emerged that crimes against humanity — and possibly genocide— are occurring" in Xinjiang.
"Disturbing new evidence has also emerged of a systematic and widespread policy of forced sterilization and birth suppression of the Uyghur and other minority populations," the report said.
It also cited a 2017 policy document that showed elementary and middle-school-age children in the region were involuntarily separated from their families.
"These trends suggest that the Chinese government is intentionally working to destroy Uyghur and other minority families, culture, and religious adherence, all of which should be considered when determining whether the Chinese government is responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes—including genocide—against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in China," the report added.
The Chinese embassy in Washington dismissed the report, calling the possibility of genocide a "rumor."
The CECC was "obsessed with making up all sorts of lies to vilify China," an embassy spokesperson said. "The so-called 'genocide' is a rumor deliberately started by some anti-China forces and a farce to discredit China."
China has come under intense international criticism over its policies in Xinjiang, where rights groups say as many as 1 million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in internment camps.
Beijing said that the heavily guarded centers are educational and vocational institutes and that all who have attended have "graduated" and gone home.
Calls for formal genocide declaration
The report called for a formal US "determination on whether atrocities are being committed" in Xinjiang.
The Trump administration was reportedly already weighing such a determination which would severely dent Beijing's international reputation.
A formal declaration by the US would mean countries would have to reconsider allowing companies to do business with Xinjiang that produces over 20% of the world's cotton.
It would also raise pressure for further US sanctions.
Research published Wednesday found evidence indicating Uighur laborers were being forced to pick cotton by hand.
The report, citing government documents, found an estimated 570,000 workers from three Uighur regions were mobilized to cotton-picking operations in 2018.
Major fashion brands, including Nike, Adidas, Gap, and others have come under fire by rights groups for using cotton-sourced from China.
CECC co-chair and Democrat Representative James McGovern called on the incoming administration of Joe Biden to use the report's findings to hold Beijing accountable.
"The United States must continue to stand with the people of China in their struggle and lead the world in a united and coordinated response to the human rights abuses of the Chinese government," McGovern said.
There have been bipartisan calls to act against Beijing over its treatment of ethnic minorities in the region.
Prior to the November election, the Biden campaign had already declared that genocide was taking place in Xinjiang.
President Donald Trump's National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said in October Beijing was perpetrating "something close to" genocide.
Reuters contributed to this report.