US sanctions Chinese officials over Uighur rights
WASHINGTON: The United States has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials on Thursday, including a member of the country’s powerful Politburo, accusing them of serious human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority, a move likely to further ratchet up tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The sanctions that include the Xinjiang region’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau were announced amid already-high tensions between Washington and Beijing over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its tightened grip on Hong Kong.
“The United States calls upon the world to stand against the CCP’s acts against its own minority communities in Xinjiang, including mass arbitrary detention, forced labour, religious persecution, and forced birth control and sterilisation,” a White House official said.
China said on Friday it will impose tit-for-tat measures on US institutions and individuals who “behave badly” on Xinjiang-related issues.
“The US actions seriously interfere in China’s internal affairs, seriously violate the basic norms of international relations, and seriously damage China-US relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a briefing, without giving details about the “reciprocal measures”.
Who is sanctioned?
China denies mistreatment of the minority group and says the camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
The sanctions are imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a federal law that allows the US government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any US assets, US travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them.
The sanctions were imposed on Chen, a member of China’s powerful politburo; Zhu Hailun, a former deputy party secretary of the region; Wang Mingshan, the director and Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; and former party secretary of the bureau Huo Liujun.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement he was also imposing further visa restrictions on Chen, Zhu, and Wang, barring them and their immediate family from the United States.
The US Treasury Department said that Chen, the highest-ranking Chinese official to be hit with sanctions, implemented “a comprehensive surveillance, detention, and indoctrination program in Xinjiang, targeting Uighurs and other ethnic minorities” through the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.
Repression of minorities
China’s officially atheist Communist government at first denied the existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang, but now says they are vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies.
China says Xinjiang has long been its territory and claims it is bringing prosperity and development to the vast, resource-rich region. Many among Xinjiang’s native ethnic groups say they are being denied economic options in favour of migrants from elsewhere in China and that their Muslim faith and unique culture and language are being gradually eradicated.
Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated,” a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region. Some Uighurs and Kazakhs have told the AP that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or transferred to forced labour in factories.
In October 2019, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in” the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang.
It also blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese companies and agencies linked to abuses in the region – including surveillance technology manufacturers and Xinjiang’s public security bureau – effectively blocking them from buying US products.
Last month, Trump signed legislation, passed with overwhelming support from Congress, mandating that individuals, including Chen, face sanctions for oppressing Uighurs. The law also requires that US businesses and individuals selling products to or operating in Xinjiang ensure their activities don’t contribute to human rights violations, including the use of forced labour.
The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps in the Xinjiang region.
China threatened retaliation after US President Donald Trump signed legislation in June with little fanfare, calling for sanctions over the repression of China’s Uighurs.