The U.S. sanctioned a senior member of China’s ruling Communist Party and three other officials over human rights abuses in the western province Xinjiang, in an escalation of the Trump administration’s rivalry with the country.
The sanctioned individuals include Chen Quanguo, a member of the country’s 25-member Politburo and Xinjiang province party secretary, according to a statement from the Treasury Department on Thursday. The others include Huo Liujun, a former deputy party secretary; Wang Mingshan, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; and Zhu Hailun, a former director of the bureau. The bureau was also named.
The U.S. move is tied to the widespread detention of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, a policy that has been widely criticized by top American officials as well as human rights groups. It comes amid soaring tensions between Beijing and Washington over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s moves to quell dissent in Hong Kong and a debate over the use of Chinese technology by the U.S. and allies.
“The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
The statement cited the public security bureau’s use of “repressive tactics,” including “mass detentions and surveillance” against the province’s Uighur population.
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“The entity and officials are being designated for their connection to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious abuses targeting Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region,” according to the statement.
Although China is likely to object strongly to sanctions against a member of the Politburo, which oversees the running of the country, the sanctions may be more symbolic than substantive. There’s a small likelihood that the officials named would have financial connections with the U.S. The sanctions block access to accounts or businesses owned, directly or indirectly, by the people or the bureau. It also prohibits U.S persons from doing business with the sanctioned officials or entities.
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