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US joins EU, others in imposing sanctions for China's Uyghur abuses

This file photo taken July 5, 2018 shows Uyghurs staging a rally in front of a European Union institution in Brussels to demonstrate against the deteriorating human rights situation in China. (Kyodo)

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- The United States on Monday joined the European Union and other Western countries in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, a move likely to further strain U.S.-China relations.

    Denouncing Beijing's treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority in the region as "genocide and crimes against humanity," Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded an end to the repression of religious and ethnic groups, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.

    The Treasury Department announced sanctions on Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and another senior official, Wang Junzheng, saying the United States is "committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to promote accountability for the serious human rights abuses occurring in Xinjiang."

    More than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, and other Muslims have reportedly been detained in extrajudicial internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities, according to the State Department's 2019 report on human rights practices.

    Noting that the U.S. move was taken in coordination with the EU, Britain and Canada, Blinken said in a statement that the action demonstrates commitment to working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights and shining a light on Chinese officials responsible for the atrocities.

    He also applauded the EU's human rights sanctions announced the same day over, among other things, arbitrary detention of the Uyghurs, marking the first time the bloc has issued punitive sanctions against Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

    "A united transatlantic response sends a strong signal to those who violate or abuse international human rights, and we will take further actions in coordination with likeminded partners," Blinken added.

    Japan is the only Group of Seven member not participating in the coordinated effort.

    At a press conference Tuesday, the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, expressed "grave concerns" over the situation in Xinjiang but declined to say whether Tokyo could impose sanctions of its own.

    Asked whether Japan should also follow suit, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a press conference Washington "won't make recommendations."

    The administration of President Joe Biden has been stepping up efforts to rally U.S. allies and partners to counter China, viewing the Asian giant as posing serious challenges to the stable and open international system the United States is defending.

    In a show of unity, the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada and the United States also issued a joint statement Monday expressing their "deep and ongoing concern" regarding the situation in Xinjiang.

    They said the evidence of abuses is "overwhelming" and that China's "extensive program of repression" includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labor, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilizations and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.

    Beijing has argued that facilities labeled as internment camps are actually vocational training centers to preemptively combat terrorism and religious extremism.

    The latest development came after the United States and China last week held the first face-to-face talks between their top diplomats since Biden took office in January.

    The meeting in Alaska exposed the deep rift between the world's two largest economies over the international order, human rights and other key issues, signaling that a rocky relationship is likely to continue under the Biden administration.

    During the talks, the Chinese delegation said calling the country's treatment of Uyghurs "genocide" is "the biggest lie of the century," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

    But the two sides have also signaled the possibility of cooperating on the issue of climate change.

    U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday during a TV interview that Biden's climate envoy John Kerry will be meeting with his Chinese counterpart to discuss global warming issues. The Wall Street Journal reported that the two will come together at a China-chaired virtual climate conference on Tuesday.

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