- China has been accused by human rights organizations of religious persecution and arbitrarily detaining over a million Uighurs.
- China said it would retaliate and accused the United States of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
- China, however, claims that these centers are schools to help Uighurs find jobs, learn Mandarin, and move away from jihadism.
The United States has imposed sanctions on several figures of the Communist Party of China (CPC) for violating the human rights of Uighurs and other Muslims. Beijing has already reacted and promises to retaliate against Washington, further increasing tension between the two largest world powers.
In recent years, China has been accused by human rights organizations of religious persecution and arbitrarily detaining over a million Uighurs, a Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, in political indoctrination camps. It is an accusation that Beijing denies.
Among the figures targeted by US sanctions is Chen Quanguo, the CPC’s general secretary in Xinjiang and a member of the Chinese Politburo, who is responsible for the Uighur indoctrination programs in that Chinese province.
The sanctions were announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the United States cannot ignore the CPC’s human rights violations against ethnic minorities. The sanctions also target three other officials from Xinjiang province who, as of now, have their assets in the United States frozen and financial transactions with these figures become a crime.
The measures announced by the United States come at a time of enormous tension with China, not only due to Washington’s criticisms of the way Beijing managed the COVID-19 pandemic at its initial stages but also due to the situation in Hong Kong.
The CPC imposed a national security law that calls into question the autonomy of the Special Administrative Region, and the ongoing trade war between the two world powers.
After the sanctions were announced, China said it would retaliate and accused the United States of interfering in the country’s internal affairs. “In light of these wrong actions, China will impose reciprocal measures on U.S. officials and organizations that have displayed egregious behaviour on human rights in relation to Xinjiang affairs,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, quoted by the Reuters news agency.
Zhao added that the U.S. practice constitutes serious interference in China’s internal affairs, severe violation of basic norms governing international relations, and grave harm. Beijing has also been accused of trying to control the birth rate of this minority, and of transferring thousands of Uighurs from Xinjiang to re-education centers to work in factories elsewhere in China.
Last year, the New York Times had access to internal Chinese government documents with Beijing’s plans to carry out a “merciless” crackdown on this Muslim minority, citing the need to combat Islamic terrorism. Several Uighur activists in exile claim that their family members were detained in China just for wearing a long beard or the Islamic veil.
Another investigation by an international consortium of journalists, published in November last year, revealed the day-to-day life of Uighurs in Xinjiang detention centers, classifying them as “the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic-religious minority since the World War II.”
China, however, claims that these centers are schools to help Uighurs find jobs, learn Mandarin, and move away from jihadism.