China sanctions four US officials over Uyghur criticism

China sanctions four US officials over Uyghur criticism
3 min read
21 December, 2021
China has blacklisted four members of a US commission on religious freedom in retaliation for US sanctions imposed for human rights abuses against Uyghurs.
The US has slapped sanctions on Chinese companies in response to the Uyghur genocide [Getty]

China blacklisted four members of a US federal commission on religious freedom on Tuesday in the latest tit-for-tat response to Washington's own sanctions targeting alleged perpetrators of genocide in Xinjiang.

The move came as Beijing also hit out at Washington for appointing a new special coordinator for Tibet and blasted global powers over their criticism of local elections in Hong Kong that vetted out the opposition.

China's treatment of Tibetans, Muslim minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang and an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong have contributed to worsening diplomatic relations between Western powers and Beijing.

Xinjiang in particular has prompted Washington to slap sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies as well as a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics, sparking fury in Beijing and reciprocal measures.

On Tuesday China announced the latest targets - four members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Beijing's foreign ministry named chairwoman Nadine Maenza, vice chairman Nury Turkel, as well as commissioners Anurima Bhargava and James W. Carr as newly sanctioned.

"These countermeasures include the prohibition of the above-mentioned persons from entering China and the freezing of their assets in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau," spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

"Chinese citizens and institutions are also prohibited from dealing with these people."

Set up in 1998, USCIRF is a federal commission that surveys religious freedom around the world and has been a vocal critic of China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims, a rare issue of bipartisan agreement in polarised Washington.

The announcement came days after the US unleashed a volley of new actions over Xinjiang that included a ban on virtually all imports from the region - a major global cotton producer - over forced labour allegations.

It has also recently blacklisted Chinese companies like drone maker DJI and artificial intelligence startup SenseTime over their alleged work with authorities in Xinjiang.

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Tibet and Hong Kong

China's previous reciprocal sanctions have included European, British and US lawmakers, academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm.

Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have found evidence of what they say is mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation. Washington has described it as genocide.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

On Monday the US also named a new "special coordinator for Tibetan Issues", who will be tasked with restarting dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China, as well as promoting "respect for the human rights" of Tibetans.

Zhao said China was "firmly opposed" to the move.

"Tibet affairs are purely China's internal affairs and brook no interference from any foreign forces," he said Tuesday.

He also took exception to criticism from G7 and European nations over this weekend's poll in Hong Kong.

World powers condemned Sunday's tightly vetted legislature vote in a series of coordinated statements that said Beijing's decision to reduce directly elected seats and control who could stand had eroded democracy in the Chinese territory.

"These Western countries should face up to the reality that Hong Kong has returned to China for 24 years," Zhao said.