United States President Joe Biden’s administration is imposing travel bans on Chinese officials whom it accuses of repressing Uighur Muslims, as well as other ethnic and religious minorities.
The US State Department announced on Monday that it is barring the officials from travelling to the US because of their involvement in “repressive acts” and crackdowns on freedom of speech and religion in China and abroad.
The department did not identify which officials would be subject to the expanded ban, nor say how many would be affected.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the sanctions are being applied to Chinese officials who “are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, policies or actions aimed at repressing religious and spiritual practitioners, members of ethnic minority groups, dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, labor organizers, civil society organizers, and peaceful protestors in China and beyond”.
Perpetrators of human rights abuses must continue to face consequences. The United States has taken action to impose visa restrictions on PRC officials for attempting to intimidate, harass, and repress dissidents and human rights defenders inside and outside of China.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 21, 2022
The move adds to visa restrictions originally imposed by the administration of former US President Donald Trump over China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, as well as repression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and advocates for freedoms in Tibet.
The United Nations says at least one million Uighurs have been detained in so-called “counter-extremism centres” in Xinjiang.
Rights groups have said China’s treatment of the Uighurs amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity. Beijing has rejected these allegations and says its policies towards the Uighurs, as well as other minorities, are necessary to fend off extremism.
The State Department sanctions come just days after Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping amid rising US-China tensions over the war in Ukraine.
The US has raised concerns that China may come to Russia’s aid – either by giving military equipment or bypassing Western sanctions – in its increasingly brutal offensive in Ukraine, and Biden warned Xi of the “implications and consequences” of such support during their call.
The Chinese leader, for his part, stressed the need to reach a negotiated agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine, while also telling Biden that US-China relations could be negatively affected should the issue of Taiwan not be handled “properly”.
Taiwan has been a source of tension between Washington and Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory. The US, though it does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, is its most important international backer and arms supplier.
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department last week also announced charges against five men accused of acting on behalf of the Chinese government in a series of brazen and wide-ranging schemes to stalk and harass Chinese dissidents in the country.
The criminal cases, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, alleged longstanding efforts to dig up dirt on dissidents, intimidate them, and stifle their speech.
In 2020, prosecutors charged eight people with working on behalf of the Chinese government in a pressure campaign aimed at coercing a New Jersey man who was wanted by Beijing into returning to China to face charges.