The US State Department on Tuesday expressed deep concern over China's "worsening crackdown" on minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, as the Trump administration considered sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses.
"We have a lot of tools at our disposal", she told reporters.
Asked whether or not the USA was considering economic sanctions against Chinese officials accused of overseeing the policies, Nauert acknowledged the State Department had received a letter from members of Congress on the issue, but declined to discuss details of any potential government action. "We're not going to preview any sanctions that may or may not happen".
In Bejing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang signaled that China did not want the United Nations to get involved.
The economic penalties would be one of the first times the Trump administration has taken action against China because of human rights violations.
But he said that various ethnic groups in the region have a common desire for social stability, and that the Chinese government guarantees freedom of faith based on law.
OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images A demonstrator wears a mask painted with the colors of the flag of East Turkestan, home to millions of Uighur Muslims under surveillance by the Chinese government.
The rights watchdog said that 1 million people are being held in detention camps, where Turkic Muslims are being forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party, and memorize rules applicable primarily to Turkic Muslims.
Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have now been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political re-education" camps, according to USA officials and United Nations experts.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released earlier this week said that as many as one million people were being held in "camps" across China's western region.
Punishments for refusing to follow instructions in the camp could mean being denied food, being forced to stand for 24 hours or even solitary confinement, it said.
On Monday, the new United Nations Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet became the latest high profile global figure to speak out against alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
She called on Beijing to permit the United Nations rights office access to "all regions" of China and embark on a discussion of the issues.
Available information suggests that Uyghurs may be subject to the harshest treatment at the hands of Xinjiang authorities, HRW writes, saying that since its report draws heavily on testimony from ethnic Kazakhs who have left the region, it is hard to assess the "full extent of the repressive policies in Xinjiang, particularly those directed at Uyghurs".