The United States on Thursday has levelled long-awaited sanctions against several Chinese officials believed to be responsible for human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had barred Chen Quanguo, the Party Secretary of the XUAR; Zhu Hailun, Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee (XPLC); and Wang Mingshan, the current Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), as well as their family members, from entry into the U.S. “for their involvement in gross violations of human rights” in the region.
In a statement, Pompeo said he had also placed additional visa restrictions on other officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believed responsible for or complicit in the unjust detention or abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
“The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labour, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” Pompeo said.
China imposes heavy restrictions on Muslim minorities in the region in the name of stamping out terrorism—including on the use of native languages, expression of traditional culture, and family planning—while discrimination abounds in favour of majority Han Chinese.
Those who do not adhere to the policies routinely end up jailed or detained in the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million people since April 2017.
Beijing describes the three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centres,” but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
The Department of State’s announcement of sanctions came on the same day that the Department of Treasury said it is blocking the assets of the XPSB, as well as Chen, Zhu, Wang, and HuoLiujun—a former security official in the region—for their roles in serious human rights abuse under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
“The United States is taking action today against the horrific and systematic abuses in Xinjiang and calls on all nations who share our concerns about the CCP’s attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms to join us in condemning this behaviour,” Pompeo said.
While the Chinese government had yet to respond to the announcement of sanctions at the time of publishing, Beijing has previously warned of retaliation “in proportion” if Chen were targeted as part of legislation in support of the Uyghurs.
The sanctions follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s enactment last month of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA), which passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress at the end of May.
The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labour, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against Chinese officials deemed responsible for them under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Rights groups and lawmakers had been publicly calling for the Trump administration to put sanctions in place under the law, specifically ones targeting Chen.
Pompeo noted in his statement that prior to spearheading Beijing’s repressive tactics in the XUAR, “Chen oversaw extensive abuses in Tibetan areas, using many of the same horrific practices and policies CCP officials currently employ in Xinjiang.”
The sanctions also came after a June 29 report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the XUAR, which German researcher Adrian Zenz concludes may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.
Uyghur exile groups and the Uyghur-American commissioner of a bipartisan advisory panel on religious freedom on Thursday applauded what they said were long-awaited sanctions and urged other governments around the world to follow in Washington’s footsteps.
The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) noted that it had been calling for sanctions since 2018, with executive director Omer Kanat welcoming the move he said came “at the 11th hour for Uyghurs.” (Source: RFA)