Miami mayor and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Francis Suarez indicated in an interview on Tuesday that he was unfamiliar with the plight of Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in China whose treatment has been the subject of worldwide condemnation for years.
In an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, the Republican presidential candidate was asked, “Will you be talking about the Uyghurs in your campaign?”
Suarez responded, “The what?”
“The Uyghurs,” Hewitt said, prompting Suarez to ask, “What’s a Uyghur?”
At the end of the interview, Suarez told Hewitt, “You gave me homework, Hugh. I’ll look at – what was it? What’d you call it, a weeble?”
In a statement to CNN Tuesday afternoon, Suarez denied that he was unaware of the Uyghur situation and the human rights abuses China is accused of committing.
“Of course, I am well aware of the suffering of the Uyghurs in China. They are being enslaved because of their faith. China has a deplorable record on human rights and all people of faith suffer there. I didn’t recognize the pronunciation my friend Hugh Hewitt used,” Suarez said in a statement to CNN.
China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims has been the subject of a great deal of international condemnation. In 2021, the State Department officially determined China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjing. The following year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found China’s treatment of Uyghurs constituted “crimes against humanity.”
China denies allegations of such human rights abuses in Xinjiang. It has insisted that its reeducation camps are necessary for preventing religious extremism and terrorism in the area, which is home to about 11 million Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority that speak a language closely related to Turkish and have their own distinct culture.
The situation has reached the two most recent presidents of the United States. Then-President Donald Trump in 2020 signed a bill that aimed to punish China and officials responsible for carrying out torture and human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population through sanctions, including asset blocking, visa revocation and ineligibility for entry into the United States.
Additionally, President Joe Biden signed a law in 2021 banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region in response to the country’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
Suarez’s gaffe on Tuesday was quickly pounced on by fellow 2024 GOP hopeful Nikki Haley.
“We promised never again to look away from genocide and it’s happening right now in China. And no one is saying anything because they’re too scared of China,” Haley said at an American Enterprise Institute event. “Part of American foreign policy should always be that we fight for human rights for all people. And what’s happening with the Uyghurs is disgusting. And the fact that the whole world is ignoring it is shameful.”
It’s not uncommon for presidential candidates whose political careers have focused mostly on domestic affairs to make embarrassing mistakes when pressed about foreign policy. Suarez’s response on Tuesday evoked a similar flub made by Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson in 2016 when, asked about the Syrian refugee crisis in Aleppo – which at the time was a dominant story in American media – he replied, “And what is Aleppo?”