China announces retaliatory sanctions on US officials over Xinjiang measures

This photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows the Chinese flag flying over the Juma mosque in the restored old city area of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region. - While Muslims around the world celebrated the end of Ramadan with early morning prayers and festivities this week, the recent destruction of dozens of mosques in Xinjiang highlights the increasing pressure Uighurs and other ethnic minorities face in the heavily-policed region.

Beijing has announced sanctions against United States officials, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in retaliation for measures announced by Washington last week over Beijing's alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying revealed the new sanctions at a press conference Monday, calling on the US to "stop interfering in China's international affairs."

Among the US officials named by Hua are Senators Rubio and Cruz, both former presidential candidates, US Representative Chris Smith, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

"I must point out the Xinjiang affairs are China's internal affairs and the US has no right to interfere," Hua said.

"We urge the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision and stop interfering in China's internal affairs or undermining China's interests. And we will make further reactions based on the development of the situation."

Hua said the sanctions would take effect on Monday but provided no further details on the measures or what they might entail.

Washington's sanctions against Chinese officials include the freezing of all US assets and a block preventing US nationals from conducting business with them. Anyone sanctioned by the US also faces visa restrictions, preventing them and their families from entering the US.

China's western Xinjiang region is culturally and ethnically different from much of the rest of the country, with a large Turkic minority population, and has for years had an uneasy relationship with the government in Beijing.

The US State Department estimates that since 2015 as many as two million Muslim-majority Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities have been imprisoned in enormous re-education camps in Xinjiang, as part of a region wide crackdown by Beijing.

There have also been reports of historic Uyghur graveyards being demolished, Uyghur families being forced to welcome in Communist Party officials and mass surveillance of communities across Xinjiang.

On Thursday, the US government announced Chen Quanguo, the Xinjiang Communist Party chief, and a number of other top local party officials would be sanctioned, along with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

"The US will not stand idly by as the (Chinese Communist Party) carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Thursday.

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