The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, with just one day left in Donald Trump’s outgoing administration, attacked the Chinese government’s use of mass internment, forced sterilisation, and the forced labour of more than a million members of the Muslim minority.
The US has become the first country to use the terms to describe the human rights abuses in the country’s northwest Xinjiang region and is the harshest criticism yet of any government.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state,” said Mr Pompeo in a statement.
“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uighurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”
The Trump administration’s determination matches that of the president-elect, Joe Biden, who said last year that the Chinese policy against the Uighur people was “genocide”.
Mr Biden’s administration could now impose more sanctions against China after he takes office on Wednesday.
The Chinese government has rejected accusations it is committing genocide against the Uighur people and has defended the internment camps as vocational training schools.
“This utterly untethered fabrication of ‘genocide’ regarding Xinjiang is the conspiracy of the century,” said Xu Guixiang, a deputy director of propaganda for Xinjiang last week.
“People of all ethnic groups independently choose safe, effective and appropriate birth control measures. There has been no such a problem of ‘mandatory sterilisation’ in the region.”
A crackdown on the Uighur began in 2009 after riots in the regional capital of Urumqi, which left hundreds of Chinese Han dead, and a rise in support for the Islamic State.
In 2017 the Chinese government built prisons capable of housing a million people where detainees have said they are subjected to daily political indoctrination to break their Islamic faith and physical abuse.
The US has banned the import of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang and a string of Chinese companies have been placed on an export blacklist amid allegations their products contribute to the detention, forced labour and state surveillance.