Washington recently announced sanctions on Chinese officials it deems responsible for human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the far western region. “In response to the wrongful move by the US, China has decided to take reciprocal action against institutions and individuals who have acted egregiously on Xinjiang affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday. Asked what those measures would be, Zhao said only that “the details will be out very soon”.
The foreign ministry spokesman has made it clear that China’s stance on sovereignty and counterterrorism is “unshakeable”.
And he has now urged the United States to withdraw its sanctions.
Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and three other top officials from the region’s leadership, as well as its police department, were named by the US government in the sanctions.
According to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the individuals and police department were responsible for “or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uygurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang”.
The Secretary of State made it clear that any sanctions being implemented were in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
A sanction which allows the US to impose penalties on foreign officials for human rights abuses.
The sanctions require all US assets of the targeted individuals or entities to be blocked and reported to the Office of Foreign Assets Control under the US Treasury Department.
READ MORE: China’s ‘unknown pneumonia’ outbreak claims denied by Kazakhstan
The two nuclear powers have been sparring over the COVID-19 pandemic and human rights.
Also as their strategic confrontation in the western Pacific intensifies, trade and technology has also become a feuding point.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University of China, said Beijing would be infuriated by the sanctions as it saw the Xinjiang issue as among its “core interests”.
“For the Communist Party, it is the most important issue … and Beijing has invested a great deal of resources to take very systematic and forceful measures [there],” he said.
Shi said China’s basic policy direction, including in Xinjiang, was unlikely to change despite pressure from the US.
“Of course these measures might be adjusted as Xinjiang becomes more stable, but the policies will remain on the same path,” he said.
Shi added that imposing sanctions against senior Chinese officials was the most direct punitive action Washington could take.
The US Commerce Department in May slapped sanctions on seven Chinese companies and two institutions.
Both of which for being “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labour and high-technology surveillance against Uygurs”.
In October, Pompeo announced visa restrictions on a group of unspecified Chinese officials deemed responsible for Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang.