China vows retaliation against US sanctions over Xinjiang

BEIJING – China said Friday it will retaliate against U.S. officials and institutions following Washington’s imposition of sanctions on three local officials of the ruling Communist Party over human rights abuses in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

China will “definitely fight back” against actions it considers interference in its internal affairs and that which threaten its sovereignty, security and development interests, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing.

Zhao said China “strongly opposes and condemns” the Trump administration’s decision to bar the three officials from entering the U.S., the latest in a series moves taken against China as relations deteriorate over the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Hong Kong and trade.

“In response to the wrong practice of the U.S., China decided to take reciprocal measures against the relevant U.S. institutions and individuals who performed badly on the Xinjiang-related issues,” Zhao said.

The U.S. administration’s Thursday announcement comes a day after it slapped visa bans on Chinese officials deemed responsible for barring foreigners’ access to Tibet. Thursday’s step, however, hits a more senior level of leadership, targeting Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s ranking leader and a member of the party’s Politburo, along with regional security officials Zhu Hailun and Wang Mingshan.

They and their immediate family members are banned from entering the United States. The Associated Press profiled Zhu as part of a package of stories last year.

The sanctions were announced a week after an AP investigation showed forced population control of the Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities, one of the reasons cited by the 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 labour, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

China has detained an estimated 1 million or more members of its Muslim ethnic minority groups in internment camps, described by the government as vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies. It says those facilities have since been closed, a claim impossible to deny given the restrictions on visits and reporting about the region.

Camp veterans and family members say those held are forced, often with the threat of violence, to denounce their religion, culture and language and swear loyalty to party leader and head of state Xi Jinping.

China says vast, resource-rich Xinjiang has long been its territory and claims it is bringing stability and prosperity to the region. Many Uighurs and others among the region’s native population say they are being denied economic options in favour of migrants from elsewhere in China and that the party wishes to eliminate their separate cultures.

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 — including surveillance technology manufacturers and Xinjiang’s public security bureau — effectively blocking them from buying U.S. products.