Days after Washington blacklisted a number of Chinese politicians for alleged human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority. China responded with retaliatory sanctions against a group of American politicians, including Republican senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
The measures that China is placing will also target Republican congressman Chris Smith, and Sam Brownback, the US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. Hua Chunying, a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the measures would begin on Monday.
Chunying did not detail what the sanctions would entail. China has placed these sanctions due to the US imposing visa bans and asset freezes on several Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief in the Xinjiang Region, over the alleged abuse in the western region. The US imposed these sanctions on other senior officials in China, accusing them of serious human rights abuses.
In retaliation, Chunying said: “We urge the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, and stop any words and actions that interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests.” Chunying added that China “will make a further response depending on the development of the situation.”
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US was acting against “horrific and systematic abuses” in the region, including forced labour, mass detention, and involuntary population control. Human rights groups say that China has rounded up more than one million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in a vast brainwashing campaign, aimed to forcibly homogenise minorities into the country’s Han majority.
The US sanctions that were placed came after the publication of The Room Where It Happened, a book by John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor. Bolton alleged that, during a G20 meeting in 2019 that was only attended by interpreters, President Trump spoke approvingly of his Chinese counterpart’s explanation of “why he was basically building concentration camps” to intern Uyghurs. Bolton also wrote that the US interpreter said that Trump spoke approvingly of the camps.
China has rejected all of these statements and has responded by acknowledging that it is sending Uyghurs to “vocational education centres” to learn Mandarin and job skills, in a bid to steer them away from “terrorism”. However, members of the Uyghur diaspora say their relatives have been arrested for sending Ramadan greetings and other similar acts of religiousness.
China’s ‘Xinjiang’ region is home to some 10 million Uyghurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which accounts for roughly 45% of ‘Xinjiang’s’ total population, has long accused the Chinese authorities of political, economic, and cultural discrimination.
Over the last two years, China has subjected the region to increasingly draconian restrictions, including banning men from growing beards and women from wearing veils. The country has also introduced, what many observers see as, the world’s most extensive electronic surveillance program, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, as least one million people – roughly 7% of Xinjiang’s Muslim population – have been incarcerated in an ever-expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to both US and UN officials.