U.S. weighing sanctions over China's Muslim crackdown
The U.S. State Department expressed deep concern this week over China's "worsening crackdown" on minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, as the Trump administration considered sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses.
Discussions have gained momentum within the U.S. government over possible economic penalties in response to reports of mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims, which has prompted a growing international outcry, U.S. congressional sources said.
Any sanctions decision would be a rare move on human rights grounds by the Trump administration against China, with which it is engaged in a trade war while also seeking Beijing's help to resolve a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons.
A U.S. official said the idea of sanctions was still in the discussion stage and one of the congressional sources said a decision did not appear to be imminent.
"We're deeply troubled by the worsening crackdown, not just on Uighurs (but also) Kazakhs, other Muslims in that region of China," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing, renewing concerns expressed in recent months by top administration officials.
Nauert acknowledged that the State Department had received a letter from a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers at the end of August asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to impose sanctions on a number of Chinese officials accused of overseeing the policies. Those included Chen Quanguo, Communist Party chief in Xinjiang and also a member of the Party's politburo.
Also under consideration are sanctions the lawmakers sought against several Chinese companies involved in building detention camps and creating surveillance systems used to track and monitor Uighurs, according to one of the congressional sources.
Nauert declined to discuss details of any U.S. government action. "We're not going to preview any sanctions that may or may not happen," Nauert said.
The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project tweeted a photo of activist Dolkun Isa, president of World Uyghur Congress, at the White House on Monday along with the comment, "A meeting with White House officials today provided much-needed encouragement for Uyghur human-rights advocates."
Isa, speaking to journalists by telephone from Brussels, declined to say which White House officials he had met in Washington. Isa said he had the impression from the Americans that "they are seriously considering" imposing sanctions on senior Chinese officials, including Chen, the Party chief in the far western region.
China's Uighur heartland turns into security state
China says it faces a serious threat from Islamist extremists in its Xinjiang region. Beijing accuses separatists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of stirring up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority. By Nadine Berghausen
Economy or security? China routinely denies pursuing repressive policies in Xinjiang and points to the vast sums it spends on economic development in the resource-rich region. James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy says the focus on security runs counter to Beijing's goal of using the OBOR initiative to boost Xinjiang's economy, because it would disrupt the flow of people and ideas
China's far western Xinjiang region ramps up security: three times a day, alarms ring out through the streets of China's ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and shopkeepers rush out of their stores swinging government-issued wooden clubs. In mandatory anti-terror drills conducted under police supervision, they fight off imaginary knife-wielding assailants
One Belt, One Road Initiative: an ethnic Uighur man walks down the path leading to the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamakan Desert. A historic trading post, the city of Kashgar is central to China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which is President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy involving massive infrastructure spending linking China to Asia, the Middle East and beyond
China fears disruption of "One Belt, One Road" summit: a man herds sheep in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China's worst fears are that a large-scale attack would blight this year's diplomatic set piece, an OBOR summit attended by world leaders planned for Beijing. Since ethnic riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009, Xinjiang has been plagued by bouts of deadly violence
Ethnic minority in China: a woman prays at a grave near the tomb of Imam Asim in the Taklamankan Desert. Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking distinct and mostly Sunni Muslim community and one of the 55 recognised ethnic minorities in China. Although Uighurs have traditionally practiced a moderate version of Islam, experts believe that some of them have been joining Islamic militias in the Middle East
Communist Party vows to continue war on terror: Chinese state media say the threat remains high, so the Communist Party has vowed to continue its "war on terror" against Islamist extremism. For example, Chinese authorities have passed measures banning many typically Muslim customs. The initiative makes it illegal to "reject or refuse" state propaganda, although it was not immediately clear how the authorities would enforce this regulation
CCTV cameras are being installed: many residents say the anti-terror drills are just part of an oppressive security operation that has been ramped up in Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland in recent months. For many Uighurs it is not about security, but mass surveillance. "We have no privacy. They want to see what you're up to," says a shop owner in Kashgar
Ban on many typically Muslim customs: the most visible change is likely to come from the ban on "abnormal growing of beards," and the restriction on wearing veils. Specifically, workers in public spaces, including stations and airports, will be required to "dissuade" people with veils on their faces from entering and report them to the police
Security personnel keep watch: authorities offer rewards for those who report "youth with long beards or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks. Human rights activists have been critical of the tactics used by the government in combatting the alleged extremists, accusing it of human rights abuses
China earlier called for United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to respect its sovereignty after she urged Beijing to allow monitors into the region and expressed concern about the situation there.
Beijing has said Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tension between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority who call the region home and members of the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
Last month, a U.N. rights panel said it had received credible reports that up to one million ethnic Uighurs may be held in extra-legal detention in Xinjiang and called for them to be freed.
"There are credible reports out there that many, many thousands have been detained in detention centres since April 2017 and the numbers are fairly significant from what we can tell so far," Nauert said.
U.S. sanctions could be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, a federal law that allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any U.S. assets, U.S. travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them. (Reuters)