On June 17, 2020, the US President signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 into law. The law authorizes the President to impose sanctions on persons, including Chinese government officials, determined to be responsible for certain human rights violations and abuses committed against Muslim minority groups in China or elsewhere. The law requires the administration to sanction those individuals by blocking their assets and declaring them ineligible for visas or admission to the United States. The President may waive sanctions if s/he deems it in the national interest.
The sanctions represent another sign of worsening relations between Washington and Beijing, following diplomatic battles over trade, the coronavirus pandemic, and U.S. accusations of Chinese industrial espionage. The United States this month ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston, and China responded by shuttering the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, all while senior Chinese and Trump administration officials have ramped up a war of words that emulates the tensest days of the Cold War. Washington’s action freezes any U.S. assets of the company and officials and generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them. It is now a crime in the US to conduct financial transactions with all of them, and they will have their US-based assets frozen.
According to CNN Business the United States is restricting 11 Chinese companies from buying American technology and other goods because it says they’re linked to alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang. The list compiled by the US Department of Commerce covers a range of companies, including biotech firms and those that manufacture wigs and home appliances. US authorities claim that several of them use “forced labor involving Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups” in China’s Xinjiang region. It accused others of connections to “genetic analyses used to further the repression” of those groups.
US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement that the restrictions would ensure that US goods and tech are not used in “the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations.”
Chinese officials deny the detention facilities in Xinjiang are “concentration camps”, describing them instead as “vocational education centres” where “students” learn Mandarin and job skills in an effort to steer them away from religious extremism following deadly attacks and riots. China responded with a statement saying it will impose reciprocal measures. The US action “marked a serious interference in China’s affairs and was deeply detrimental to bilateral relations”, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told.
Washington’s sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators worldwide by freezing any U.S. assets, banning U.S. travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.
Sanctions were also imposed on Zhu Hailun, deputy secretary of the regional legislative body, the Xinjiang’s People’s Congress; Wang Mingshan, the director and Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; and the former party secretary of the bureau, Huo Liujun.
Peter Harrell, a former official and sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security, said that from an economic perspective, the US government’s action was a “substantial escalation” of U.S. pressure and sends a warning to companies engaged in activity in China.