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California Mayor Says He’s ‘Living The Dream’ Visiting Chinese Region Tied To Slave Labor, ‘Genocide’

A California mayor said he was “living the dream” while visiting a region of China that has been tied to slave labor practices and human rights abuses.

Barstow, California, Mayor Dr. Paul Courtney expressed his excitement at attending the 8th China-Eurasia Expo in Xinjiang, China that started last week, telling state media that he was hoping to expand on U.S.-China relations and try the region’s “original barbecue.” The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been credibly accused of committing crimes against humanity against the Muslim groups in Xinjiang, including locking them in mass concentration camps, using them as slave labor and committing “genocide” against the groups.

“Hello, Xinjiang — happy to be here,” Courtney said at the China-Eurasia Expo on Monday in an interview with Chinese-state media. “It’s a pleasure to be here. Living the dream.”

“I’m looking for that original barbecue thing,” he told the state media reporter while discussing the region’s foods with other guests. “I heard about the melons. I heard it’s like the best melons, ever… happy to be here.”

Courtney explained that he was in the region to help bridge the U.S.-China gap amid “tensions” between the two countries, calling it a “win-win for all of us.” The U.S. and China have a highly complex and fragile relationship that has sometimes been shaken over disagreements on military, political and economic practices — President Joe Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November to try to mend relations, but Beijing still routinely interferes in the U.S.’ affairs.

China routinely claims that any instances of human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang are false or fabricated, despite years of credible evidence otherwise from the U.S. government that the country heavily discriminates against and abuses religious minority groups. Over one million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim groups have been detained in internment or detention facilities since 2017, according to a State Department report from June, noting that some estimates put the number closer to over three million.

There have been numerous reports of individuals dying in the harsh conditions of such camps, including medical neglect, torture and involuntary sterilization, according to the State Department. There are also reports of detainees being subject to forced labor at internment camps in Xinjiang.

CCP officials perform home inspections and utilize high-level surveillance techniques throughout the region to ensure that families aren’t performing or observing religious traditions such as Ramadan, according to the State Department report. Neighbors were encouraged or required to spy on each other in some cases.

“First time [to China], and I’ve heard so much, and just grand and big and exciting and manufacturing and everything. For myself, I really hope that this, by itself, is going to create new relationships for China itself and for this area over here,” Courtney said on Monday, referring to Xinjiang.

Other California officials have traveled to China or visited with Chinese officials in recent years; San Francisco Mayor London Breed dined with a CCP operative in China in April, according to a previous Daily Caller News Foundation review of public records. California Gov. Gavin Newsom traveled to Beijing in late 2023 and met personally with Chinese President Xi Jinping, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, who visited China years prior.

Courtney’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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