Two Republican senators along with a member of Congress and an ambassador have been sanctioned by the Chinese government in retaliation for similar US sanctions on Chinese officials.
Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, along with congressman Chris Smith and ambassador Sam Brownback, have been among the US’s most vocal critics of the Chinese Communist Party, specifically its treatment of the country’s Uighur minority.
The precise nature of the sanctions is as yet unclear, but a Chinese government spokesperson said they would “correspond” to the ones the US imposed on four Chinese officials last week.
The officials subject to those sanctions, which the spokesperson said have “seriously damaged” the Chinese-American relationship, include Chen Quanguo, the top party official in Xinjiang province. Xinjiang is home to the majority of China’s ethnic Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group who in recent years have been the subject of a massive government crackdown.
According to evidence assembled by international observers, including from leaked Chinese government documents, more than a million Uighurs have been imprisoned in what the government has described as “boarding schools” and “deradicalisation centres”.
There, they are subjected to indoctrination and forced to denounce their religion and abandon their language. Those who do not comply are tortured, it is claimed. And those in Xinjiang who have not been sent to the camps, or who have been released from them, find themselves living under a high-tech surveillance regime that is intrusive even by contemporary Chinese standards.
The Chinese government has said that reports of abuse at the camps are false, and are attempts to meddle in internal Chinese affairs. They claim that the internment programme is a counter-terrorism effort designed to root out Islamist extremism, and that most of those detained in Xinjiang’s “vocational training centres” have been “reintegrated into society” and found jobs with good outcomes.
Mr Cruz and Mr Rubio this year spearheaded the passage of a bill designed to ensure that goods produced by forced labour are not bought or imported by US companies, and to mandate that the US government sanction anyone who “knowingly engages” in forced labour in Xinjiang. It was signed into law a month ago.
Mr Smith, meanwhile, has also introduced legislation condemning China’s treatment of the Uighurs; in one 2019 speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, he recounted harrowing testimony from a survivor of one of the camps, and said that “Xi Jinping is smashing and obliterating an entire people. He is presiding over genocide”.
And Mr Brownback, a former Kansas governor and senator who currently serves as the US’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has previously called on the international community to “get their courage back” to confront China’s abuses in Xinjiang and said he had been disappointed by the world’s response.
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