The new restrictions follow Washington and Ottawa’s move to join the European Union and Britain in sanctioning Chinese officials over Beijing’s alleged mistreatment of the Uyghur minority in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. China has dismissed all claims of wrongdoing, and has accused Western nations of downplaying their own historical crimes.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced reciprocal sanctions against US and Canadian persons and entities on Saturday, with the restrictions targeting United States Commission on International Religious Freedom chairman Gayle Manchin, as well as the organization’s vice chair, Tony Perkins. Manchin and Perkins spent much of the past year lobbying US Congress to take a tough line on China over the Uyghur issue.
Canadian targets include Conservative Party House of Commons lawmaker Michael Chong and the House of Commons’ Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Chong has led the charge in Canada’s parliament to declare China’s treatment of the Uyghurs a “genocide.”
In a press statement, the Foreign Ministry indicated that the measures were taken “in response” to the US and Canada’s imposition of “unilateral sanctions on relevant individuals and entit[ies] in Xinjiang on March 22 based on rumours and disinformation.”
The sanctions ban the individuals listed from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macao, and prohibit Chinese citizens and institutions from doing business with or having exchanges with the listed individuals and entities.
In its statement Saturday, the Ministry confirmed that “China’s previous sanctions on US individuals who have seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and interests on Xinjiang-related issues remain” in force, and urged countries involved in the dispute to “clearly understand the situation and redress their mistakes,” and “stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues” and interference in China’s internal affairs.
“Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt,” Beijing warned.
The United States and Canada joined Britain and the European Union in targeting senior Chinese officials and entities accused of involvement in the mass internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang on Monday, with the move coming after Brussels and London imposed their first sanctions against the People’s Republic in over three decades last week. Beijing responded by sanctioning nine British nationals and four entities, as well as ten Europeans, including several members of the European Parliament, and four EU entities.
Both sides remain intransigent in their positions. On 17 March, ahead of the imposition of restrictions, Chinese Ambassador to Brussels Zhang Ming urged the EU to “think twice,” and warned that “if some insist on confrontation, we will not back down as we have no options other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people in our country.”
The Xinjiang dispute centers around Western countries’ allegations that as many as one million Muslim Uyghurs have been placed in brutal ‘re-education camps’ meant to force them to assimilate into Han Chinese culture. Chinese authorities have repeatedly dismissed these claims, maintaining that the institutions are voluntary vocational centers set up in accordance with UN anti-extremism guidelines, and inviting foreign officials and human rights groups to visit Xinjiang for themselves to find out what is really going on.
Beijing moved to step up security in the Xinjiang region in the wake of multiple terrorist incidents by Islamist radicals and separatists, including a 2009 attack which killed nearly 200 people and left some 1,700 wounded, nearly all of them Han Chinese.
The Xinjiang dispute is just one issue in a growing list of areas of mutual animosity between China and the West. Along with Xinjiang, the US and its allies have also accused Beijing of cracking down on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong 2019. Beijing responded to these claims by telling Washington to mind its own business and suggesting that the protests were a foreign-backed attempt to foment a colour revolution.
Tensions have also been rising over Taiwan, the US ally which China considers to be a renegade province. The US has also clashed with Beijing in the South China Sea, where the People’s Republic lays claim to large swathes of strategic, hydrocarbon-rich waters, while the US Navy attempts to conduct ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols.
The China-US spat also revolves around trade and technology, with the Trump administration unleashing a multi-trillion dollar trade war against Beijing in 2018 after accusing the PRC of a litany of economic crimes, and of attempting to undermine America’s information security.
The dispute was meant to be resolved with the signing of the Phase One trade deal in January 2020, but neither side has fully committed to the treaty’s terms, and Washington has since introduced new sanctions and restrictions. Since coming into office in January, the Biden administration has generally stuck to its predecessor’s tough-guy approach to China policy.
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