China: U.S. sanctions over Xinjiang will be met with proportionate retaliation

China, U.S., Xinjiang, Uighurs, internment camps

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Chinese ambassador told Reuters yesterday (Nov. 27) that the U.S. should expect proportionate retaliation if it takes out any sanctions over Xinjiang.

Cui Tiankai, China’s U.S. ambassador, said to Reuters that Beijing’s recent actions in the Xinjiang province were specifically to “re-educate” dissidents in an effort to combat international terrorism.

He said that China faces a double standard and suggested punishing those involved would be like Beijing taking out sanctions against U.S. officials engaged in the fight against ISIS. Cui further added that while the U.S. is using missiles and drone bomb to attack suspected terrorists, China is simply trying to reeducate them.

China’s persecution of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region has been ongoing for a long time. The state was lambasted by international media earlier this year after it passed legislation to retroactively justify the internment of around 1 million citizens for “reeducation purposes.”

Interviews with former detainees have revealed they were beaten, tortured, forced to denounce their religion, and made to swear allegiance to the Communist Party.

Even outside of the internment camps, residents of Xinjiang are subjected to measures that severely restrict their freedom. Citizens are heavily monitored by the state, which has even forced families to welcome government watchdogs as residents within their own homes.

The Xinjiang problem featured prominently in questions posed to China earlier this month by peers at a UN Universal Periodic Review to evaluate the country’s human rights track record.

The U.S. has continuously toyed with the idea of sanctions against Chinese officials and companies involved in the repression of Xinjiang Uighurs, although it is yet to impose specific measures. A group of lawmakers asked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to impose sanctions on seven Chinese officials in August, including Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief in Xinjiang administering the crackdown.

Such sanctions could be passed under the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. bill enacted in 2016 to punish offenders involved in the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky. The act allows authorities to target international human rights violators by freezing their U.S. assets, instituting travel bans, and preventing them from doing business with American counterparts.

Decisions to impose person-specific sanctions on human rights grounds would be an unusual move for the U.S., but could be used as a tactic to create leverage in its ongoing trade war with China.