China urges US to ‘abandon prejudice’ regarding Xinjiang

Reuters, BEIJING

Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 1

China yesterday urged the US to abandon its “prejudice” over Xinjiang, as Washington considers sanctions against Chinese officials and companies linked to allegations of human rights abuses.

Discussions have gained momentum within the US government over possible economic penalties in response to reports of mass detentions of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s far western region, which have prompted an international outcry.

Any sanctions decision would be a rare move on human rights grounds by US President Donald Trump against China, with which he has engaged in a trade war while also seeking Beijing’s help to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

The US Department of State said it received at the end of last month a letter from a bipartisan group of US lawmakers asking US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to impose sanctions on a number of Chinese officials accused of overseeing the policies in Xinjiang.

Those included Chen Quanguo (陳全國), Chinese Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang and a member of the politburo, one of the party’s top decisionmaking bodies.

“China consistently resolutely opposes the United States using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) told a daily news briefing.

“If the media report is correct, we urge the relevant side to respect the facts, abandon prejudice, and stop doing and saying things that harm Sino-US mutual trust and cooperation,” Geng said, referring to news reports on the US deliberations.

All people in China “fully enjoy freedom of religion in accordance with the law,” Geng added.

Beijing has said that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Muslim militants and separatists, who plot attacks and stir up tension between the Uighur minority who call the region home and members of the ethnic Han majority.

Chen made his mark swiftly after taking the top post in Xinjiang in 2016, with mass “anti-terror” rallies conducted in the region’s largest cities involving tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police.

One of his most visible initiatives has been to build thousands of grid-style police checkpoints across Xinjiang, and human rights advocates have decried martial law conditions and mass DNA collection.

US sanctions could be imposed under the Magnitsky Act, a federal law that allows Washington to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any US assets, US travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them.