The United States has imposed sanctions on three senior Chinese officials it deems responsible for human rights abuses targeting ethnic and religious minorities in the western part of the country.
The sanctions specifically name XUAR party secretary Chen Quanguo and three other top officials of the region’s leadership, as well as other unidentified people.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement: “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.”
Pompeo said the sanctions were authorized by a 2017 executive order signed by US President Donald Trump called “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption”, and were in line with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which was signed into law by then-president Barack Obama in 2012.
The decision to bar the three senior officials from entering the US is the latest in a series of actions the Trump administration has taken against China as relations deteriorate over the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Hong Kong and trade.
Chen is the highest ranking Chinese official to be sanctioned by the US government. Chen 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 US govt has crossed another ‘red line’ by sanctioning top Chinese … officials. I think leading CCP figures will be calling their (foreign) lawyers to make sure their assets (if they have any) are going to be outside the US, just in case,” Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University in New York, said in a Twitter post.
“Few foreign leaders have their personal assets in China, so it is hard for China to retaliate,” he added.
Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang political and legal committee; and Wang Mingshan, party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau have also been banned from entering the US now.
On June 17, Trump signed the Uygur Human Rights Policy Act, which requires greater US scrutiny of suspected human rights abuses in Xinjiang and demands that Chinese officials considered responsible be subject to economic sanctions and barred from entering the US.
The legislation was passed in response to the Chinese government’s establishment of mass internment facilities in Xinjiang for what Beijing claims to be voluntary “vocational” education aimed at countering religious extremism.
In recent months, leaks of internal government documents have challenged that narrative, presenting evidence of a network of locked-down facilities and directives from party leaders to “round up everyone who should be rounded up”.
Congress pushed for follow-through when 75 US senators and House members urged Trump to make a formal determination whether China’s treatment of Uygurs and other groups constituted an atrocity, possibly even genocide.
Beijing will consider Pompeo’s sanctioning of Chen and the other Xinjiang officials “a highly provocative act”, said Michael Hirson, China and Northeast Asia practice director at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
“Beijing has long resented the US’ use of unilateral sanctions and its claims to ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ all over the world,” he said.
“Chen was likely already subject to a travel ban to the US imposed last October (the names are kept confidential) and has long known that he was a potential target,” Hirson added.
In recent years, the Chinese government has detained an estimated 1 million people in internment camps and prisons where they are subjected to ideological discipline, forced to denounce their religion and language and physically abused. China has also placed the children of detainees into dozens of orphanages, where they too are indoctrinated, former detainees and their families say.
In October 2019, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in” the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. It also blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese companies and agencies linked to abuses in the region.