China slaps tit-for-tat sanctions on US lawmakers in human rights spat
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China slaps tit-for-tat sanctions on US lawmakers in human rights spat

Unspecified ‘corresponding sanctions’ imposed on key critics of Beijing’s policies of detainment for Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities in ideological re-education camps

Policemen arrest a protester during a rally to show support for Uighurs and their fight for human rights in Hong Kong on December 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Policemen arrest a protester during a rally to show support for Uighurs and their fight for human rights in Hong Kong on December 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

China announced on Monday retaliatory sanctions against three senior US Republican lawmakers and an American envoy in a deepening row over Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.

Some of the most outspoken critics of China — senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Congressman Chris Smith — were targeted by the action, as was the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback.

The unspecified “corresponding sanctions” were announced days after the US imposed visa bans and asset freezes on several Chinese officials, including the Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, over rights abuses in the region.

The move was “in response to the US’s wrong actions,” foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

“We urge the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, and stop words and actions that interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests,” she said.

“China will make a further response depending on the development of the situation.”

Sanctions will also be applied on the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an agency that monitors human rights in the Asian country.

The American measures came as US President Donald Trump has increasingly sought to blame China for the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and beyond and accuse his presumptive challenger in November’s election, former Vice President Joe Biden, of being soft on China. They follow an allegation in a new book by former national security adviser John Bolton that Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping he was right to build detention camps to house hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities.

The sanctions were announced a week after an Associated Press investigation showed forced population control of the Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities, one of the reasons cited by the US State Department for the sanctions

“The United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

In this December 3, 2018, photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region. The Associated Press has found that the Chinese government is carrying out a birth control program aimed at Uighurs, Kazakhs and other largely Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, even as some of the country’s Han majority is encouraged to have more children. The measures include detention in prisons and camps, such as this facility in Artux, as punishment for having too many children. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Pompeo’s statement, accompanied by a similar announcement from the US Treasury Department, said additional visa restrictions are being placed on other Chinese Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups.

The Chinese government has detained more than a million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities for what it calls voluntary job training.

A classified blueprint which came to light last year showed that the camps Beijing runs in China’s far west are instead secret centers for forced ideological and behavioral re-education.

The confidential documents, leaked to a consortium of international journalists, lay out the Chinese government’s deliberate strategy to lock up minorities, most of whom are Muslims, to rewire their thoughts and even the language they speak.

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