[Newsphopick=Atalia Chua] China has sanctioned American officials and senators in response to Washington’s sanctions over Xinjiang and Chinese officials.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the actions of US politicians had severely deteriorated China-US relations. “US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, US Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, US Representative Chris Smith as well as the Congressional-Executive Commission on China would be sanctioned,” he stated.
The details were announced on Monday (13 July) in the latest retaliatory move in the midst of mounting tension between the two power houses. “Xinjiang is entirely the internal affair of China, and the US has no right to interfere. The Chinese government’s determination to protect its sovereignty, and crack down against terrorism, separatism and extreme religious forces is unshakeable,” Hua said, adding that China would take further measures based on the situation.
On Thursday (9 July), the US government imposed sanctions on several Chinese senior officials in charge of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. “(They were) believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uygurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang,” the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. The sanctioned officials include Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang Communist Party chief. Three other senior officials from the region’s leadership as well as its police department were also implicated.
Mr Pompeo said the sanctions were in line with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Under this, the US can impose penalties on foreign officials for human rights abuses. The sanctions require all US assets of the targeted individuals or entities to be blocked and reported to the Treasury Department’s office of foreign assets control.
China’s treatment of Muslim Uygurs in the Xinjiang region has drawn international criticism. The United Nations has estimated that more than a million Muslims have been detained in Xinjiang camps for political re-education. However, Beijing insists they are vocational training centres planned to counter religious extremism.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University of China, said Beijing would be furious over the sanctions as it regarded the issue surrounding Xinjiang as one of its “core interests”. “For the Communist Party, it is the most important issue, and Beijing has invested a great deal of resources to take very systematic and forceful measures [there],” he said.
Shi also added that China’s basic policy direction, including in Xinjiang, was unlikely to change despite pressure from the US. “Of course these measures might be adjusted as Xinjiang becomes more stable, but the policies will remain on the same path,” he said. In his opinion, imposing sanctions against senior Chinese officials was the most penal measure Washington could take against the Asian country.
This is not the first time the US has imposed sanctions on China. The US Commerce Department in May 2019 slapped sanctions on seven Chinese companies and two institutions. They were accused of being “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labour and high-technology surveillance against Uygurs”. In October 2019, Mr Pompeo announced visa restrictions on a group of unspecified Chinese officials deemed responsible for Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang.