US China ties take another nosedive, this time over Uighur rights
Washington "will not stand idly by as the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang", said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
There has been a dramatic deterioration in ties between the US and China in recent months due to the latter's "handling" of the novel coronavirus outbreak and its tightening grip on Hong Kong, besides the festering trade war between the two countries. Now, in a move that is likely to further roil relations between the two countries, Washington has slapped sanctions on several senior Chinese officials it deems responsible for human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority in the country’s Xinjiang region.
China is accused of mass detentions, religious persecution and forced sterilisation of Uighurs and others. The sanctions target US-based financial interests belonging to Xinjiang region's Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of China's powerful Politburo, and three other officials.
Sanctions were imposed on Zhu Hailun, a former deputy party secretary and current deputy secretary of regional legislative body the Xinjiang's People's Congress; 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 on Thursday said Washington was also barring Chen, Zhu, Wang and their immediate families, as well as other unnamed Chinese Communist Party officials, from traveling to the United States.
He said that these people are “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”.
Today, I designated three senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang for gross violations of human rights, making them and their immediate family members ineligible for entry into the United States.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 9, 2020
“The United States will not stand idly by as the (Chinese Communist Party) carries out human rights abuses targeting” these groups, he added, citing “forced labour, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” he added.
According to the Donald Trump administration, Chen is the highest ranking Chinese official to be sanctioned by the US government. He is a member of the 25-member Politburo -- the peak of the Communist Party’s leadership. His rank is higher than Pompeo’s Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
The blacklisting is "no joke," said a senior administration official. "Not only in terms of symbolic and reputational affect, but it does have real meaning on a person's ability to move around the world and conduct business."
China denies any mistreatment of Muslims in far-western Xinjiang and says the camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the US government to target human rights violators worldwide by freezing any US assets, banning US travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.
US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who sponsored legislation signed by President Donald Trump in June that calls for sanctions over the repression of Uighurs, told Reuters the move was "long overdue" and that more steps were needed.
"For far too long, Chinese officials have not been held accountable for committing atrocities that likely constitute crimes against humanity," Rubio said.
Despite Trump's hardline public remarks about Beijing, former National Security Adviser John Bolton alleged in his recent book that Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping should go ahead with building detention camps in Xinjiang and sought Xi's help to win reelection in November.
Trump said in an interview last month he had held off on tougher sanctions on China over Uighur human rights due to concerns such measures would have interfered in trade negotiations with Beijing.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had also raised objections to the Treasury sanctions, especially against a Politburo member, out of concerns they could further damage US-China relations, according to a person familiar with the matter.
"The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world," Mnuchin said in a statement.
Peter Harrell, a former US official and sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security, said Thursday's move may signal a continued shift by the Trump administration of "paying more attention to human rights abuses in China ... after several years of relative neglect."
Chen made his mark swiftly after taking the top post in Xinjiang in 2016, when mass "anti-terror" rallies were held in the region's largest cities involving tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police. He is widely considered the senior official responsible for the security crackdown in Xinjiang.
The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps in the Xinjiang region.