China has announced sanctions on four members of the United States government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom in retaliation for penalties imposed on Chinese officials over complaints of abuses in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
The tit-for-tat sanctions on Tuesday added to spiralling tension over Xinjiang, where over a million minority Muslim Uighurs are believed to have been forced into reeducation camps.
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Washington has banned imports from the region that might be made with forced labour, while activists are calling for a boycott of February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. China has denied accusations of abuses and earlier retaliated by publicising calls for boycotts of foreign shoe and clothing brands.
The chairwoman and three members of the US panel are barred from visiting mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, and any assets they have in the country will be frozen, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
Zhao identified those targeted as Chairwoman Nadine Maenza, Deputy Chairman Nury Turkel and members Anurima Bhargava and James Carr. Zhao gave no indication whether they have assets in China.
China threatened to retaliate after the US Treasury announced sanctions on December 10 on two officials accused of involvement in the repression of Uighurs. Beijing is accused of mass detentions, forced abortions and other human rights abuses.
The US Treasury targeted Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the region’s government from 2018 until early this year, and Erken Tuniyaz, who holds the position now and previously was deputy chairman.
“The United States should withdraw the so-called sanctions and stop interfering in Xinjiang’s affairs and China’s internal affairs,” Zhao said.
“China will make further responses in accordance with the development of the situation.”
Tibet, Hong Kong ‘abuses’
On Monday the US also named a new “special coordinator for Tibetan Issues”, who will be tasked with restarting dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China, as well as promoting “respect for the human rights” of Tibetans.
Zhao said China was “firmly opposed” to the move.
“Tibet affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and brook no interference from any foreign forces,” he said Tuesday.
He also took exception to criticism from G7 and European nations over this weekend’s poll in Hong Kong.
World powers condemned Sunday’s tightly vetted legislature vote in a series of coordinated statements that said Beijing’s decision to reduce directly elected seats and control who could stand had eroded democracy in the Chinese territory.
“These Western countries should face up to the reality that Hong Kong has returned to China for 24 years,” Zhao said.