The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) sent a letter to Hilton Worldwide Holdings CEO Christopher Nassetta on Thursday calling on Hilton to withdraw from a hotel project planned atop the ruins of an Uyghur Muslim mosque razed by the Chinese Communist government.
The letter addressed a plan to build a Hampton by Hilton hotel in the Hotan district of Xinjiang province, home of the oppressed Uyghur Muslims. The land for the hotel and adjoining commercial center was formerly occupied by a mosque, which the Chinese government demolished in 2018, along with thousands of other cultural and religious buildings constructed by the Uyghurs and other Muslims across China.
Human rights groups have tried circulating petitions to ask Hilton to back out of the hotel project. In June, the largest Muslim advocacy group in America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), wrote Nassetta and asked him to “stand on the right side of history” by pulling out of the Hotan project and all other operations in Xinjiang.
“Hilton has got to do the right thing, they have got to cancel this project. If they continue with the project, they are being complicit in a genocide. Simple as that,” CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in June.
On Monday, CAIR urged Hilton Worldwide Holdings shareholders to investigate the Hotan project and demand explanations from company management.
“Major shareholders should call on Hilton Worldwide Holdings to explain why the company remains silent about its plan to license the establishment of a hotel on the site of a mosque that was destroyed as part of China’s ongoing and well-documented genocide of Uyghur Muslims. American corporations must no longer be complicit in China’s genocide,” Mitchell said on Monday.
Thursday’s letter from CECC chairman and co-chair Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA), cosigned by former chairman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), restated many of the details found in the online petitions and CAIR’s letter:
The site is emblematic of the Chinese government’s campaign of widespread destruction of Uyghur religious and cultural sites in the XUAR and official efforts to eradicate Uyghurs’ religious and cultural practices. These abuses are among those the U.S. government has determined to be genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Hilton should not allow its name to be used to perpetuate and promote the cultural erasure and repression of the millions of Uyghurs living in the XUAR.
Over the past several years, authorities in the XUAR have demolished or damaged around 16,000 mosques and more than half of the region’s other religious sites, such as shrines and cemeteries, according to the Commission’s research. This destruction has taken place as authorities have demolished Uyghur neighborhoods that long stood as the cultural heart of Hotan, Kashgar, and other areas of the XUAR. Uyghurs have been displaced from the homes, mosques, and communities that have been integral to their cultural and spiritual lives for generations.
Meanwhile, peaceful expressions of Uyghur religious activity have been criminalized, and many Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims have been arbitrarily detained simply due to their religious or ethnic identity. Authorities have targeted Turkic Muslim religious figures in the XUAR, including state-sanctioned imams, for detention in both mass internment camps and prisons. Officials have also arbitrarily detained leading secular Turkic intellectuals and cultural figures, including Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz scholars, musicians, writers, and journalists in mass internment camps and other facilities.
The CECC chairmen reminded Nassetta that his company is a signatory to the U.N. Global Compact and has “committed itself to supporting international human rights standards.” They argued constructing a hotel on the site of a razed Uyghur mosque would be inconsistent with that commitment. They also noted that the demolitions even violate China’s own regulations against destroying historic and religious sites.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed the CECC letter to Hilton at a press conference on Friday, sneering that the American lawmakers who signed the letter have been “keen to spread lies and rumors about Xinjiang.”
“The relevant remarks are full of arrogance and ignorance. The intention of seeking political gain through slander is known to all,” Zhao claimed.
Zhao argued that many of the mosques in Xinjiang “were built in the 1980s and 1990s or even earlier,” and the local Muslims still have enough mosques to meet their needs, so demolition of the aging buildings and putting their land to more profitable use should not be controversial.
“The mosques in Xinjiang can well meet the needs of believers. Relevant U.S. lawmakers should face up to the fact about Xinjiang’s development and progress, stop slandering and smearing China’s ethnic and religious policies, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of so-called human rights issues,” he said.