Asia Pacific

U.S. bars Chinese officials over crackdown on Xinjiang Uighurs and other Muslim minorities

AP, AFP-JIJI, Reuters

The Trump administration Tuesday slapped travel bans on Chinese officials involved in a massive crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in its west.

The State Department said it would not issue visas to Chinese government and Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for or complicit in mass detentions and abuses in Xinjiang province. It did not identify the officials or say how many were affected by the ban, which can also be applied to their immediate family members.

U.S. lawmakers have specifically asked for action against Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief for Xinjiang and a member of the party’s powerful Politburo, and U.S. officials have previously mentioned him when saying the Trump administration was considering sanctions against officials linked to China’s crackdown on Muslims. Chen earlier led iron-fisted policies aimed at crushing dissent in Tibet and has gained a reputation within the party for his handling of minority groups.

News of the action sent U.S. stocks down. Many analysts believe U.S. government actions make it much less likely that China and the United States will reach a deal this week to resolve a trade war.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged China to halt its “campaign of repression,” release all those arbitrarily detained and stop trying to coerce members of Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China.

“The protection of human rights is of fundamental importance, and all countries must respect their human rights obligations and commitments,” Pompeo said. “The United States will continue to review its authorities to respond to these abuses.”

The announcement came a day after the Commerce Department blacklisted Chinese government agencies and a number of Chinese companies that develop facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technology that the U.S. says is being used to repress Muslim minorities. The blacklist effectively bars U.S. firms from selling technology to the Chinese companies without government approval.

China has demanded that Washington lift the sanctions. The Ministry of Commerce on Wednesday said Beijing will “take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard” its interests but gave no details of possible retaliation.

China is estimated to have detained up to 1 million Muslims in prison-like detention centers in the region. The detentions come on top of harsh travel restrictions and a massive surveillance network equipped with facial recognition technology.

China has denied committing abuses in the centers and has described them as schools aimed at providing employable skills and combating extremism.