WASHINGTON – On the way to the door, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put new sanctions on China, stating that China’s policy towards Muslims and ethnic minorities in western Xinjiang Province was “genocide”.
Pompeo made the decision on Tuesday, just 24 hours before President-elect Joe Biden took office. The incoming Biden team did not give an immediate response, although several members in the past agreed to such a designation. Pompeo’s determination has no immediate impact.
Many of those accused of participating in the repression in Xinjiang are already under US sanctions, and Tuesday’s move is the last in a series of moves the outgoing Trump administration has taken against China.
Since last year the government has steadily increased the pressure on Beijing and sanctioned numerous officials and companies for their activities in Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
Those penalties have gotten tougher since early last year when President Donald Trump and Pompeo accused China of trying to cover up the coronavirus pandemic. It was only on Saturday that Pompeo lifted restrictions on US diplomatic contacts with Taiwanese officials and prompted China to issue a stern reprimand that the island is viewed as a breakaway province.
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Five days ago, the government announced that it would stop importing cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang. Customs and border guards said they would block products there that are suspected of being made using forced labor.
Xinjiang is a leading global supplier of cotton, so the order could have a significant impact on international trade. The Trump administration has already blocked imports from individual companies associated with forced labor in the region, and the US has imposed sanctions on Communist Party officials who played a prominent role in the campaign.
According to US officials and human rights groups, China has imprisoned more than a million people, including Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, in a vast network of concentration camps. As part of an assimilation campaign in a region whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally different from the Han Chinese majority, the people were subjected to forced labor, torture, sterilization and political indoctrination.
China has denied all charges, but Uyghur forced labor has been linked through coverage by The Associated Press of various products imported into the US, including clothing and electronic goods such as cameras and computer monitors. China says its policies in Xinjiang are only aimed at promoting economic and social development in the region and rooting out radicalism. She also rejects criticism of her internal affairs.