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A quarrel over allegations of human-rights abuses in China continued as Beijing announced retaliatory sanctions on individuals in the U.S. and Canada and the corporate fallout spread.

Tensions have flared over reports of forced labor being used to harvest cotton in China’s western province of Xinjiang, accusations that Beijing routinely dismisses as politically motivated lies.

Hennes & Mauritz AB stores in parts of China are being closed by their landlords after the Swedish fashion retailer’s comments on Xinjiang prompted an unofficial boycott. Japanese brands Muji and Uniqlo became embroiled in the spat last week, while Oregon-based Nike Inc.’s shares sank as investors took fright at the potential impact on its Chinese business.

Then on Saturday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced sanctions targeting a Canadian lawmaker and a parliamentary committee on human rights, as well as the heads of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, known as USCIRF. Earlier in the week, the commission praised coordinated sanctions on Chinese officials by the U.S., Canada and European countries over China’s treatment of its ethnic Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

The Chinese measures were taken in response to penalties announced a week ago by the U.S. and Canada that were “based on rumors and disinformation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

China’s government is “firmly determined” to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and urges the relevant parties “to clearly understand the situation and redress their mistakes,” it said.

The Xinjiang controversy adds to a wider standoff between China and the U.S. and its allies that took root under Donald Trump and which is hardening under the Biden administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier described China as the world’s “greatest geopolitical test.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media following closed-door talks between the United States and China in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 19. | POOL / VIA AFP-JIJI
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media following closed-door talks between the United States and China in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 19. | POOL / VIA AFP-JIJI

In a statement Saturday, Blinken said that the U.S. stands with its allies in calling for an end in human rights violations and abuses against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and those of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.

“Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and silence those speaking out for human rights and fundamental freedoms only contribute to the growing international scrutiny of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” he said.

China sanctioned European politicians and a think tank last week, including a German and a French member of the European Parliament and a former leader of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party.

The sanctions announced Saturday target USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin, who is the wife of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin; USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins, who’s also president of the Christian conservative lobbying group Family Research Council; Canadian member of Parliament Michael Chong; and the Canadian Parliament’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

“They must stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form and refrain from going further down the wrong path,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt.”

Those concerned are prohibited from entering China, Hong Kong and Macau, while Chinese citizens and institutions are prohibited from doing business with them or from having exchanges with the committee.

China’s previous sanctions on U.S. individuals “who have seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and interests on Xinjiang-related issues” remain in place, the ministry said.

In response, Chong said on Twitter that the sanctions were “a badge of honor” and that “We who live freely in democracies under the rule of law must speak for the voiceless.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement that the country’s government “stands with Parliamentarians targeted by unacceptable sanctions by China.”

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