US restricts visas to China officials over Uighur 'repression'
"The United States calls on the People's Republic of China to immediately end its campaign of repression in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo called on China to "release all those arbitrarily detained, and cease efforts to coerce members of Chinese Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate."
The State Department said it would restrict visas to Chinese government and Communist Party officials involved in "detention or abuse" of Uighurs, Kazakhs or other predominantly Muslim ethnicities in Xinjiang.
The order will also affect their family members, including children who may be seeking the prestige of an American education.
The State Department did not specify the names of officials who would be affected.
But lawmakers have asked the United States specifically to take action against Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief for Xinjiang.
Reputed within the party for his handling of minority groups, he earlier led iron-fisted policies aimed at curbing dissent in Tibet.
The latest move came after the Commerce Department on Monday blacklisted 28 Chinese entities including video surveillance firm Hikvision and artificial intelligence companies Megvii Technology and SenseTime over their involvement in Xinjiang.
Beijing voiced its "strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" over the move and denied there were any human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Rights groups say some one million Uighurs and other Muslims are being held in a vast network of camps in Xinjiang aimed at homogenising the population into China's majority Han culture.
Witnesses say that China has sought to force Uighurs to drop core practices of Islam such as fasting during Ramadan and abstaining from alcohol and pork.
A recently published video showing dozens of Uighur detainees blindfolded and shackled at a Chinese detention centre caused global outrage. There have also been reports that Uighur women have been forcibly sterilised in detention centres and that prisoners have been killed so that their organs could be harvested.
During last month's United Nations General Assembly, the State Department organized an event to highlight the plight of the Uighurs, with the US's second-highest diplomat John Sullivan decrying "China's horrific campaign of repression."
"In Xinjiang, the Chinese government prevents Muslims from praying and reading the Quran, and it has destroyed or defaced a great number of mosques," Sullivan said.
"This is a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to stop its own citizens from exercising their unalienable right to religious freedom."
China had until recently denied the existence of re-education camps, but now claims they are "vocational training schools" necessary to control terrorism, while decrying interference in its "internal affairs."
The ban comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China, particularly over trade policy and Beijing's actions in the western Xinjiang region.
The world's two biggest economies are in the midst of a trade war, having exchanged punitive tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.
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