“China will respond more according to the development of the situation,” Hua said.
She did not explain the sanctions beyond saying that they would correspond to the Americans. The United States prohibited any American property transaction with four senior Chinese officials and prohibited three of them from entering the United States.
There was no indication that any of the sanctioned Americans had plans to travel to China.
The sanctioned Chinese officials include Chen Quanguo, who heads the northwest region of Xinjiang, where more than 1 million members of Muslim minority groups have been imprisoned in what China calls de-radicalization and retraining centers.
Critics have compared camps to prisons to which inmates are sentenced with little due process and where they are forced to denounce their religion, language and culture and swear allegiance to the Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. An Associated Press investigation also uncovered allegations that women from Xinjiang’s predominantly native Uighur ethnic group were forced to use contraception or undergo involuntary sterilization.
Ties between China and the US have been steadily deteriorating due to the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Beijing’s policy towards Hong Kong, and trade. The Trump government also imposed visa bans on Chinese officials held responsible for banning foreigners’ access to Tibet, along with those believed to be imposing a civil rights crackdown in Hong Kong.
Despite such moves, former national security adviser John Bolton claimed in a new book that Trump told Xi that he was right to build detention camps in Xinjiang.
Additional visa restrictions are being imposed on other Communist Party officials believed to be responsible or complicit in the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs and members of other minority groups.
In addition to Chen, the party secretary of the Xinjiang party and a member of the national political bureau, the other sanctioned officials were Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee; Wang Mingshan, Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; and Huo Liujun, a former senior official in the region’s police force.
They and their immediate family are prohibited from entering the United States.
China has tried to crush any hint of separatist tendencies among the Uighurs, which critics say amounts to a campaign of cultural genocide. The Uighurs are mostly Muslims and their Turkish language, Muslim religion and Central Asian culture set them apart from most Han in China.
While China says it is bringing prosperity and development to the vast resource-rich region, many of Xinjiang’s native ethnic groups say they are denied economic options in favor of migrants from other parts of China.
Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and that all the detainees had “graduated”, a claim difficult to independently substantiate given the strict vigilance and reporting restrictions in the region. Some Uyghurs and Kazakhs told AP that their relatives were released, but many others say that their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison, or transferred to forced labor in factories.
In October 2019, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible or complicit” in the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. It also blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese companies and agencies linked to abuses in the region, including surveillance technology makers and the Xinjiang public security bureau, effectively blocking the purchase of American products.
The officially atheistic communist government of China at first denied the existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang, but now says they are vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies.