US sanctions Chinese officials over treatment of Uygurs in Xinjiang

The US government announced sanctions on Chinese officials it deems responsible for human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region (XUAR), pressuring Beijing further on one of many issues that have roiled the bilateral relationship.

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 “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”, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

“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”.

Pompeo said the sanctions were authorised 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.

Last month, Trump signed the Uyghur 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.

Leaks of internal government documents in recent months have challenged that narrative, presenting evidence of a network of locked-down facilities and directives from Chinese Communist Party leaders to “round up everyone who should be rounded up”.

The State Department’s latest move against China follows threats of US sanctions against Chinese officials for suspected abuses in Hong Kong and Tibet, two other regions of China ostensibly granted degrees of autonomy from Beijing. (Courtesy South China Morning Post)