U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration leveled long-awaited sanctions Thursday against several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for internment camps and other human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had barred Chen Quanguo, the Party Secretary of the XUAR; Zhu Hailun, Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee (XPLC); and Wang Mingshan, the current Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), as well as their family members, from entry into the U.S. “for their involvement in gross violations of human rights” in the region.
In a statement, Pompeo said he had also placed additional visa restrictions on other officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) believed responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The family members of these officials may also be subject to the restrictions, he said.
“The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” Pompeo said.
China imposes heavy restrictions on Muslim minorities in the region in the name of stamping out terrorism—including on the use of native languages, expression of traditional culture, and family planning—while discrimination abounds in favor of majority Han Chinese.
Those who do not adhere to the policies routinely end up jailed or detained in the XUAR’s vast network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million people since April 2017.
Beijing describes the three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers,” but reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
The Department of State’s announcement of sanctions came on the same day that the Department of Treasury said it is blocking the assets of the XPSB, as well as Chen, Zhu, Wang, and Huo Liujun—a former security official in the region—for their roles in serious human rights abuse under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Chen, 64, is the first member of the Communist Party's elite 25-member Politburo to be targeted by U.S. sanctions.
“The United States is taking action today against the horrific and systematic abuses in Xinjiang and calls on all nations who share our concerns about the CCP’s attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms to join us in condemning this behavior,” Pompeo said.
While the Chinese government had yet to respond to the announcement of sanctions at the time of publishing, Beijing has previously warned of retaliation “in proportion” if Chen were targeted as part of legislation in support of the Uyghurs.
The sanctions follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s enactment last month of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA), which passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress at the end of May.
The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against Chinese officials deemed responsible for them under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Rights groups and lawmakers had been publicly calling for the Trump administration to put sanctions in place under the law, specifically ones targeting Chen.
Pompeo noted in his statement that prior to spearheading Beijing’s repressive tactics in the XUAR, “Chen oversaw extensive abuses in Tibetan areas, using many of the same horrific practices and policies CCP officials currently employ in Xinjiang.”
The sanctions also came after a June 29 report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the XUAR, which German researcher Adrian Zenz concludes may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.
The population control measures include fines on Uyghur women with three or more children, required pregnancy tests and examinations, and the forced implantation of intrauterine devices or sterilization surgery, according to Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
Uyghur exile groups and the Uyghur-American commissioner of a bipartisan advisory panel on religious freedom on Thursday applauded what they said were long-awaited sanctions and urged other governments around the world to follow in Washington’s footsteps.
The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) noted that it had been calling for sanctions since 2018, with executive director Omer Kanat welcoming the move he said came “at the 11th hour for Uyghurs.”
“A global response is long overdue,” he said. “Now there is finally action by one government. Will other countries wait until it is indeed too late?”
“This is the beginning of the end of impunity for the Chinese government,” Kanat added.
Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told RFA that only through “concrete action” such as sanctions by the U.S. government and other world governments “can we stop the Uyghur genocide and end the suffering of the Uyghur people.”
“This is a major step to ensuring justice and accountability for the ongoing genocide committed by the CCP against Uyghurs,” he said.
“These sanctions will let the CCP know that they will no longer commit such atrocities against Uyghurs with impunity.”
Uyghur-American attorney Nury Turkel, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in a statement that his bipartisan panel had been calling on the Trump administration to enact sanctions against officials responsible for the situation in the XUAR for years.
“Today’s announcements represent a major victory for religious freedom and an important step toward holding Communist China accountable for its crimes against humanity,” he said.
Tibetan group weighs in
The sanctions were also welcomed by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), which noted that Chen had been the “architect of mass human rights violations” as party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) from 2011-2016.
“Chen Quanguo is truly one of the worst human rights abusers in the world today, and he cut his repressive teeth in Tibet,” ICT President Matteo Mecacci said in a statement.
“By developing a model of intense security and forced assimilation in the Tibet Autonomous Region, then implementing and expanding on that model in Xinjiang, Chen has inflicted untold suffering on millions of Tibetans, Uyghurs and other non-Chinese ethnic groups.”
The ICT also welcomed Pompeo’s announcement earlier this week that the Department of State will impose visa restrictions on CCP and Chinese government officials under the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress in 2018.
Washington has long complained that Chinese diplomats, scholars and journalists enjoy unrestricted travel in the U.S., while China tightly restricts the access of U.S. counterparts to Tibet and other areas.
Limiting travel makes getting information out of the remote western region more difficult, which human rights activists say enables a campaign by Beijing to eliminate Tibet’s indigenous culture and religion.
Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.