The Chinese government has slapped sanctions on top U.S officials in retaliation to Washington placing its own sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of ethnic minorities, primarily the Uyghur population, in the Xinjiang region of North-West China. U.S senators and lawmakers, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as well as the members of the U.S Congressional-Executive Commission on China, have reported human rights abuses in China. Last week, the U.S took further action by imposing visa bans and asset freezes on several Chinese officials, including the Communist Party Chief in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, who are mainly held accountable for the scale and intensity of the crackdown on the Uyghur.
“The U.S actions seriously interfere with China’s internal affairs, seriously violate the basic norms of international relations and seriously damage the Sino-U.S. relations,” Hua Chinying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters last week. She added that Washington had no right to interfere in Xinjiang, and the treatment of minorities within the country is “entirely China’s internal affairs.” Rubio commented on the sanctions, tweeting “I guess they don’t like me?” while Cruz claiming that the Chinese state was “terrified and lashing out.”
According to the Guardian’s Helen Davidson, the sanctions on US officials are “largely symbolic” as these have little financial or legal exposure in China. Despite the symbolic nature of the sanctions and Rubio and Cruz’s remarks, these sanctions highlight the continuing deterioration of relations between the U.S and Chinese governments. The sanctions over the human rights violation in Xinjiang are not an isolated incident, with the US taking an increasingly aggressive stance on a range of other issues, including the use of the China-based Huawei in 5G telecommunication systems and the imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong. The U.S President, Donald Trump, stated that relations are “severely damaged” following a declaration from Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, that relations were the worst since diplomatic ties were established four decades ago.
Behind this escalation of tension between the two countries stands the rights of the Uyghur and other Muslim populations in Xinjiang. As Amnesty International reports, the Chinese state has pursued a campaign of mass incarceration of the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups. Researchers and human rights organizations have labeled the Chinese policy as an example of ethnic cleansing. Documents leaked to the international press show how religious rituals and personal relationships of Xinjiang residents are used as means of determining whether they should be interned into what China calls “re-education camps,” which serve the purpose of homogenising minorities to the country’s Han majority. Millions have reportedly been interned, with Uyghur women being forcibly sterilised, and drone footage has shown Uighur prisoners blindfolded and shaven-headed being herded onto trains in Xinjiang.
These sanctions from China are going to do little to change Washington’s tone toward China. Cruz and Rubio’s remarks display an arrogance towards the Chinese imposed sanctions, and such reactions only contribute to further tensions between the two countries. As tensions continue to sour, the plight of the Uyghur people appears to maintain as a backdrop. While China continues to label these camps as merely centres of “de-radicalisation” and “re-education”, it is crucial that the US and the international community recognise the scale of the atrocities and goes beyond placing weak sanctions on some Chinese officials. This is imperative in order to appropriately address the genocide taking place in Xinjiang.
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