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China Threatens ‘Firm Countermeasures’ after U.S. Sanctions Officials over Uighur Rights

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in Beijing, China, April 8, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

China on Friday vowed to retaliate after the U.S. slapped sanctions on senior Chinese officials over alleged human-rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in China.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian promised “reciprocal measures” and said the U.S. is the one violating human rights by interfering in China’s affairs.

“In light of these wrong actions, China will impose reciprocal measures on U.S. officials and organizations that have displayed egregious behavior on human rights in relation to Xinjiang affairs,” Zhao said.

The U.S. on Thursday sanctioned Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary of the autonomous Xinjiang region and a member of the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo. Washington also sanctioned three other senior Chinese officials: Zhu Hailun, a former deputy Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang region, Wang Mingshan, the current director and Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and Huo Liujun, a former Communist Party secretary of the bureau.

“If the United States insists on acting arrogantly, China will definitely fight back,” Zhao said. “We urge the U.S. to correct this wrong decision. If the U.S. continues to proceed, China will take firm countermeasures.”

The Xinjiang region is home to millions of Uighur Muslims, whose culture Beijing has aimed to suppress in the name of national cohesion.

Since 2017, the Chinese government has detained an estimated one million — if not more — Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in “re-education camps” around Xinjiang, which are designed to instill a sense of loyalty to the government. Around 80,000 Uighurs have been forced to work in factories, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has estimated.

China claims that the detention camps are for voluntary education and training and are used to combat extremism, but Chinese government documents leaked last year detail how the facilities are run with extreme control over their residents.

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