China said on Friday it would take “reciprocal measures” against the United States after Washington imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority.
Beijing described the new U.S. sanctions as “deeply detrimental” to mutual relations, already strained by differences over China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and its tightening grip on Hong Kong.
Washington imposed sanctions on the autonomous region of Xinjiang’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of China’s powerful Politburo, and three other officials.
A senior U.S. administration official described Chen as the highest-ranking Chinese official that the United States has sanctioned.
The decision is “no joke,” the U.S. official said. “Not only in terms of symbolic and reputational affect, but it does have real meaning on a person’s ability to move around the world and conduct business.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing the U.S. decision was a serious interference in Chinese affairs.
“In light of these wrong actions, China will impose reciprocal measures on U.S. officials and organizations that have displayed egregious behaviour on human rights in relation to Xinjiang affairs,” Zhao said.
“We urge the U.S. to correct this wrong decision. If the U.S. continues to proceed, China will take firm countermeasures.”
Washington’s sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators worldwide by freezing any U.S. assets, banning U.S. travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.
Sanctions were also imposed on Zhu Hailun, deputy secretary of the regional legislative body, the Xinjiang’s People’s Congress; Wang Mingshan, the director and Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; and the former party secretary of the bureau, Huo Liujun.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was also barring Chen, Zhu, Wang and their immediate families, and other unnamed Chinese Communist Party officials, from traveling to the United States.