The Chinese government has announced sanctions against US officials, including the Republican senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in response to US sanctions over Beijing’s treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang province.
China’s ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said the retaliatory sanctions would be in place from Monday, but gave no details on what they would entail.
The sanctions apply to Rubio and Cruz, their fellow Republican politicians Samuel Brownback and Chris Smith, and the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which monitors and reports on human rights and the rule of law in China.
The announcement is largely symbolic, given that the US officials have little financial or legal exposure in China.
On Friday, the US imposed sanctions against a Chinese government entity and four senior Chinese officials, including a sitting member of the ruling politburo, under the Magnitsky Act. The sanctions included the freezing of US assets and US travel, and prohibiting Americans from doing business with the individuals.
“The entity and officials are being designated for their connection to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious abuses targeting Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region,” the US Treasury said in a statement on Friday.
The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the US would not “stand idly by as the Chinese Communist party carries out human rights abuses”.
Beijing has been accused of detaining an estimated 1 million people in Xinjiang re-education camps and prisons, which it claims are work training centres designed to steer people away from terrorism.
Those imprisoned are forced to denounce their language and religion and their children are put in orphanages, according to families and investigators. Last week German research said authorities were carrying out enforced sterilisation of women in the region.
Hua labelled the US sanctions as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs, severe violation of basic norms governing international relations, and grave harm to China-US relations”. She said the US had no right and was in no position to intervene in Xinjiang, which was “entirely China’s internal affairs”.
US-China relations are at a historic low, and the US has stepped up vocal and actual opposition to China’s actions, particularly in Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong, where Beijing imposed sweeping national security laws this month.
China has repeatedly threatened “counter-measures” against the US and other countries, including the UK and Australia, which have criticised Beijing and pledged assistance to Hongkongers seeking to flee its growing control. The laws, which have been criticised as broad and ill-defined, have had a chilling effect on legal, media, academic, and business communities in Hong Kong, as well as the general population.
On Monday, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said it had surveyed its members and almost 70% were more concerned about the laws than a month ago, and more than 50% felt less safe.
About 52% of respondents said they were individually considering leaving Hong Kong because of the laws. However, more than 64% also said their company was not considering moving capital, assets, or business operations.
“Legislation is extremely broad and could be used for anything at all,” said one respondent. “As framed almost anything could be construed as a threat to ‘national security’ and any discussions, talks with foreign people could be construed as collusion with foreign powers.”
By Helen Davidson