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US sanctions Chinese officials for repression of Uyghurs

China blasts the move and threatens counter-sanctions against the U.S.

By Alim Seytoff 2022.03.22 -- The U.S. government has imposed new sanctions against Chinese officials over the repression of Uyghurs in China and elsewhere, prompting an angry response from Beijing and a pledge to respond with sanctions of its own.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said the U.S. would restrict visas on unnamed individuals he said were involved in repressive acts by China against members of ethnic and religious minority groups inside and outside the country's borders, including within the U.S.

"We are committed to defending human rights around the world and will continue to use all diplomatic and economic measures to promote accountability," he said.

Blinken did not disclose the names of the targets of the new sanctions.

The U.S. repeated its call for Beijing to end efforts to prohibit political dissent by targeting members of emigre or diaspora communities, including attempts to silence Uyghur American activists and other Uyghurs by denying members of their families permission to leave China.

Blinken also called for the Chinese government to end the genocide and crimes against humanity in the far-western Xinjiang region, its repressive policies in Tibet, and the ongoing crackdown on individual rights in Hong Kong.

China has held up to 1.8 million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in a network of government-run detention camps since 2017, saying that they are vocational training centers meant to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in Xinjiang. Authorities also have taken repressive measures to erase Uyghur culture, language and religion in Xinjiang.

"Imposing visa restrictions on Chinese officials responsible for, or complicit in, policies or actions aimed at repressing our religious leaders, intellectuals, scholars and Uyghurs in general is a useful tool, along with other sanctions to reprimand China for its ongoing genocide," Washington-based Campaign for Uyghurs said in a statement in response to Blinken's announcement.

Nury Turkel, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, commended Blinken's move

"As a U.S. official who has been subject to Chinese harassment and retaliation, I commend Secretary Blinken's strong public stance and show of solidarity with Uyghurs both inside and outside of China," he said

Turkel urged Washington follow up with "concrete steps to secure the release of Uyghur Americans' family members from China's camps and prisons, to facilitate family reunification, and to continue to work proactively to halt transnational repression by the CCP on U.S. soil."

During a regular press conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Blinken's statement was based on ideological bias and political lies and that it maligned and smeared China.

Wang launched into a tirade against the U.S. for its own human rights violations, including what he called the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, a botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and persistent and systemic racial discrimination.

"We urge the U.S. to earnestly reflect upon and rectify its numerous crimes," Wang said.

"In the meantime, it should view China's human rights situation in an objective and just manner, stop denigrating and suppressing the Chinese side and immediately revoke its so-called sanctions against Chinese officials. Otherwise, the Chinese side shall take reciprocal countermeasures in response."

On Monday, Blinken declared the Myanmar military's 2017 deadly crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority a genocide that killed thousands and forced an exodus to neighboring Bangladesh.

During that speech, Blinken also accused the government of continuing to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.

"The more the U.S. repeats lies related to Xinjiang, the more it exposes its hypocrisy in claiming to be a 'defender' of human rights," Wang said. He did not elaborate on what alleged lies Blinken had told.

OIC meeting in Pakistan

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi also sought to downplay allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs at a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Monday in Islamabad. He said that his attendance at the session reflected Beijing's strong desire to ally with Islamic countries.

"The cooperation between China and Islamic countries enjoys huge potential, complementary advantages and broad space," he said.

But Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu brought up the plight of the Uyghurs at the OIC session, which runs through Wednesday.

"In China, Uyghurs and other Muslims, have difficulties protecting their religious rights and cultural identity," he said.

He asked if it was right to ignore the situation of the Uyghurs.

"We do not want Muslim countries to have problems with these countries, on the contrary, we want our good relations with those countries to improve the situation of Muslims," Çavuşoğlu said. "We know that we are here on one mission with the OIC, the OIC only exists because we have the same mission, its duty is to be the collective voice for the Muslim World."

Meanwhile, a Uyghur rights advocacy group urged the OIC, an intergovernmental organization of 57 member states that serve as the "collective voice of the Muslim world," to condemn the genocide of Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang.

"It is absolutely inappropriate for an organization purporting to support Muslims around the world to invite the government responsible for abolishing religious expression for Uyghur Muslims, an outright genocide and an all-out war on Islam in the Uyghur homeland," said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, D.C.

"The OIC has been shamefully silent on China's treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in recent years, despite expressing public concern for the treatment of Muslims in other countries," he said in a statement.

Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress also criticized Wang's attendance and urge the OIC to stand up for Uyghurs.

"If the OIC strives to be a trustworthy voice of the Muslim world, it cannot continue to close its eyes to the suffering of millions of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan," he said, using Uyghurs' preferred name for Xinjiang.

Reported by RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Nuriman Abdurashid. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

CLARIFICATION: The article was updated to include comments by Nury Turkel.

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