Uighur: exchange of sanctions between Beijing and Washington

(Beijing) New escalation Beijing-Washington: China announced Friday reprisals against the United States, in the aftermath of American sanctions against several Chinese leaders accused of suppressing the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

Beiyi SEOW and Ludovic EHRET

France Media Agency

This vast semi-desert region of approximately 25 million inhabitants in northwest China has long been struck by deadly attacks attributed to separatists or Islamists. It has been the subject of a very firm recovery in recent years.

Uighurs make up almost half of the population of Xinjiang. Mostly Muslims, most of them speak a Turkic language (from the same family as Turkish) but not necessarily Chinese.

Experts and human rights organizations accuse Beijing of having interned up to a million Muslims, mainly of Uighur ethnicity, in camps in the region in the name of the struggle counterterrorism.

China denies this figure and claims that these people are taken to vocational training centers, intended to help them find employment in order to distance them from the temptation of extremism.

Washington has long been at the forefront of the issue on Thursday, inflicting unprecedented sanctions on several Chinese leaders accused of being linked to “serious human rights abuses” in Xinjiang.

Entry visas will now be refused to three officials and their families. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “horrific and systematic ill-treatment” targets Uighurs and other minorities.

“Badly behaved”

“China has decided to take reciprocal measures vis-à-vis American organizations and individuals who have behaved badly on matters relating to Xinjiang,” reacted Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the ministry, on Friday. Chinese Foreign Affairs.

“This American initiative seriously interferes in the internal affairs of China […] and seriously damages Sino-American relations”, he stressed during a press conference, without specifying the names of the individuals in the sights of Beijing.

Among those targeted by the United States sanctions is Chen Quanguo, chief official of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Xinjiang. He is considered the architect of Beijing’s security policy in the region.

China welcomes the absence of attacks since the arrival of Mr. Chen and the establishment of ubiquitous surveillance: numerous identity checks, security gates in public buildings, cameras facial recognition or police roadblocks.

Wang Mingshan, head of public security in Xinjiang, and Zhu Hailun, former CCP official in the region, are also targeted.

The US Department of the Treasury has also announced economic sanctions against a fourth individual: Huo Liujun, a former Xinjiang security official.

These American initiatives arise against the backdrop of growing tensions between Beijing and Washington on a long series of subjects: trade war, COVID – 19, national security law in Hong Kong, South China Sea, Taiwan…

Forced labor ?

The United States previously announced visa restrictions this week against Chinese officials accused of obstructing foreigners' access to Tibetan settlements in China. Beijing had responded by promising similar sanctions.

Part of the Uyghurs, the main ethnic group in Xinjiang, which has in particular common borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan or Mongolia, denounce the repression of their religion and their way of life. They would even be subjected to forced sterilization, according to a recent study published by Adrian Zenz, a German researcher who has already written several reports on Chinese policies in Xinjiang.

US Customs announced last week that it had intercepted a shipment of human hair products suspected of having been packaged in local labor camps.

The United States then warned American companies against the importation of manufactured goods through “forced labor” into China.

It is difficult for foreign media to know what is really going on in Xinjiang. Journalists are regularly followed, arrested or blocked by the authorities there.

In July 2019, China said that “most” of those interned in the region had been released. But without providing figures or evidence.