The U.S. government slapped visa bans on Chinese officials connected to the mass detainment and subjugation of its Uighur Muslim population, further escalating tensions between the two countries.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday that the Trump administration would impose visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party officials who are suspected responsible for the detention and alleged abuse of Uighurs, a Muslim minority group living in the country’s western province, and other religious minority groups.
“China has forcibly detained over one million Muslims in a brutal, systematic campaign to erase religion and culture in Xinjiang. China must end its draconian surveillance and repression, release all those arbitrarily detained, and cease its coercion of Chinese Muslims abroad,” Pompeo said in a Tuesday statement.
“Today, I am announcing visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs, or other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang,” he continued.
The restrictions will also include family members of the officials. While the travel bans are largely symbolic — the officials don’t typically embark on international travels — the announcement marks the strongest condemnation of China’s treatment of Uighurs to date.
The Uighurs are a minority Muslim population living in China’s western Xinjiang province, and reports of their discrimination at the hands of the Chinese governments have circulated for years.
As part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s campaign of sinicization — a government effort to make all of the country’s population more conformed to the Chinese Communist Party’s vision of Chinese culture, Uighurs have been placed into detention camps en masse. They have allegedly been subjected to brainwashing, torture, and other inhumane circumstances as the government tries to force them to let go of their Islamic faith and more fully embrace the communist state. (RELATED: China Claims It Arrested 13,000 Uyghur ‘Terrorists’ Since 2014)
The Chinese government maintains that it is cracking down on terrorists, and claims that the detainment camps are simply vocational training centers. A government spokesman said the U.S. “smeared” China by instituting the travel bans.
“This is an act to deliberately make up excuses for its interference and to impede China’s efforts in counter terrorism in Xinjiang,” Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, said to reporters, according to Bloomberg.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the secretary of state is authorized to restrict travel of foreign nationals he deems “would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.”
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