China imposes retaliatory sanctions against U.S. over criticism of Uighur camps

"The U.S. has no right or qualification to intervene arbitrarily," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in a interview.
Image: A watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.
A high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.Greg Baker / AFP via Getty Images

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By Linda Givetash and Eric Baculinao

Chinese officials on Monday announced retaliatory sanctions against top U.S. officials and entities in a mounting dispute over China's treatment of its Muslim minorities.

China's Foreign Ministry said two Republican senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, along with the ambassador at large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback, will face sanctions for the U.S. having "interfered in China's internal affairs."

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., were also listed. It's unclear what the measures actually mean.

It comes after Washington last week imposed sanctions against a top member of China's Communist Party and three other senior officials in response to human rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Kazakhs in China's western province of Xinjiang.

More than 1 million Uighurs have been detained in camps by the Chinese authorities, the United Nations' human rights commissioner has estimated. A report from The Associated Press last week alleged that women in the camps have been forcibly sterilized. China says the camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

"The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement last week, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

China denies abusing the Uighurs and other minority Muslim populations, and it had previously threatened retaliation for legislation signed by Trump last month that was aimed at addressing the issue.

People gather near the White House in July to call on the U.S. government to respond to China's alleged abuses of the ethnic minority Uighurs. Leah Millis / Reuters

On Monday, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the latest U.S. sanctions have "seriously damaged China-U.S." relations and called on the U.S. to reverse them.

"Xinjiang affairs are purely China's internal affairs. The U.S. has no right or qualification to intervene arbitrarily," she said in a statement in China's state newspaper the Global Times.

Hua also warned: "China will make further responses as the situation develops."

The State Department has not yet commented on China's move.

Relations between the two countries have already long been strained due to a trade war. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. has taken a series of actions taken against China and the imposition of national security legislation restricting the autonomy of Hong Kong.

Abigail Williams contributed.