Miami Mayor and 2024 presidential candidate Francis Suarez stumbled during a Tuesday morning interview when asked about human rights abuses against Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority ethnic group in China’s western region.
“What’s a Uyghur?” Suarez said when radio host Hugh Hewitt asked whether the aspiring candidate will talk about allegations against China’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs during his presidential campaign.
“You’ve got to get smart on that,” Hewitt replied in response to the mayor’s question.
Suarez brought up the topic again towards the end of the interview.
“You gave me homework, Hugh. I’ll look at what a, what was it, what did you call it, a Weeble?” Suarez asked, laughing.
“The Uyghurs. You really need to know about the Uyghurs, mayor,” Hewitt said.
Suarez quickly shifted his tone after the interview, claiming he knew about the Uyghurs but simply didn’t understand Hewitt’s pronunciation of the word.
“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,” Suarez tweeted on Tuesday. “I didn’t recognize the pronunciation my friend Hugh Hewitt used. That’s on me.”
For years now, Uyghurs have faced widespread persecution from the Chinese government including arbitrary imprisonment, forced sterilization, torture, forced labor, and restrictions on freedom of religion, according to the State Department.
More than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups have been arrested and detained by the government since 2017, leading the State Department to determine that China “has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang Beijing.”
Meanwhile Beijing has referred to the camps as “vocational education and training centers.”
Suarez — who officially launched his 2024 bid earlier this month, adding his name to an already crowded field of household name Republican candidates — is off to a rocky start in his long-shot presidential campaign.
Suarez’s stumble comes as several presidential candidates have been emphasizing tough on China rhetoric as part of their foreign policy platforms.
President Joe Biden called China’s president Xi Jinping a “dictator” last week during a campaign fundraiser in California.
Former president Donald Trump has also weighed in, claiming in a recent speech that he “stood up to China like no administration has ever done before.”
“Communist China is the greatest threat to American security and prosperity, by far,” GOP candidate and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted on Tuesday.
Another candidate, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), also touched on the issue earlier this year.
“I think we are in the era of a new Cold War, without any question,” Scott told NBC News in May, when asked if he sees China as a U.S. enemy.