Move to restrict visas follows Commerce Department decision to add certain Chinese companies to blacklist over Xinjiang.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that China‘s treatment of Muslims, including the Uighurs, in western China was an “enormous human rights violation” and that Washington would continue to raise the issue.
“This is not only an enormous human rights violation, but we don’t think it’s in the best interests of the world or of China to engage in this kind of behaviour,” Pompeo said in an interview with PBS, a public broadcaster in the United States.
Asked whether Chinese President Xi Jinping was responsible for the situation, Pompeo said: “Xi Jinping leads the country just like the leader of a tank platoon, a small business or a country is responsible for the things that happen in your name.”
Punishing Beijing for its treatment of Muslim minorities, the US government this week announced visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province and widened its trade blacklist to include some of China’s top artificial intelligence startups.
China has denied any mistreatment of Uighurs.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington in a statement on Tuesday denounced the visa action and said the US accusations on human rights violations were “made-up pretexts” for interfering in China’s affairs.
On Wednesday, Beijing called on Washington to withdraw the measure.
The US is “disregarding the facts, slandering and smearing China on Xinjiang-related issues,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a news conference on Wednesday, saying US actions were guided by “sinister intentions”.
China, which is engaged in a 15-month-old trade war with the US, also views US support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as interference in its internal affairs.
“We’re going to continue to talk about these human rights violations,” Pompeo said.
“As the president has said in another context in Hong Kong, we want to make sure that these issues are handled in a way that is humane.”
Asked about a growing dispute over a tweet by a National Basketball Association (NBA) team official supporting the protests in Hong Kong, Pompeo said American businesses were waking up to the risks of operating in China.
“The reputational cost to these companies I think will prove to be higher and higher as Beijing’s long arm reaches out to them and destroys their capacity for them, their employees – in the NBA’s case team members and general managers – to speak freely about their political opinions,” Pompeo said.