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Biden admin sanctions Chinese officials for abuses against Uyghurs

The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against military leaders in Myanmar for a "campaign of violence and intimidation against peaceful protesters."
Image: A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng
A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng in the Xinjiang region in China on Sept. 4, 2018.Thomas Peter / Reuters file

The Biden administration Monday announced sanctions against two Chinese government officials over continued human rights abuses against the country's minority Uyghur population.

The Department of the Treasury sanctions focus on Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

The Treasury Department said the pair are "connected to serious human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly includes arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region."

The sanctions were being imposed in coordination with similar moves by the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada, the department said.

Beijing hit back with punitive measures against the E.U., targeting European lawmakers, diplomats, non-profit organizations and institutes, and restricting them from entering and doing business in China.

Chinese officials also summoned the E.U. Ambassador Nicolas Chapuis on Tuesday to make a “solemn protest” against E.U. sanctions.

China denies all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang, saying the camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

“Chinese authorities will continue to face consequences as long as atrocities occur in Xinjiang,” which is home to detention camps that have held Uyghur Muslims," said Andrea M. Gacki, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. She said the department “is committed to promoting accountability for the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and torture, against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the move, saying China "continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. The United States reiterates its calls on the PRC to bring an end to the repression of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities."

The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against two individuals connected to the Myanmar military, which seized control of the country formerly known as Burma earlier this year. Than Hlaing, who was appointed chief of the Burma Police Force and the deputy home affairs minister last month, and Lt. Gen. Aung Soe, a Bureau of Special Operations commander, are responsible for violent crackdowns against peaceful protests, the department said.

Gacki said the sanctions are "in response to the Burmese military’s continued campaign of violence and intimidation against peaceful protesters and civil society."

“The Burmese security forces’ lethal violence against peaceful protesters must end,” she said.

The move on Monday marks the second time in the past week that the U.S. has targeted Beijing. The Biden administration sanctioned 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over their crackdown on political freedoms in the city just days before the two countries sat down for the first face-to-face meeting. The U.S.-China talks held Thursday and Friday in Anchorage, Alaska began with an on-camera row that lasted more than an hour.

“We knew it was going to be direct and frank and that we were going to have to cover a lot of issues on which we have profound concerns with China's policies, whether it's Xinjiang or Hong Kong or Tibet or Taiwan,” National security adviser Jake Sullivan, who led the U.S. delegation alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken, told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell on Monday.

Sullivan said the discussions also included issues of potential mutual interest such as Iran, Afghanistan and climate change, but the U.S. stressed that working on those issues would not lead to concessions on others.

“There are places in our relationship where it's in America's national interest to work together, and other places where we are going to push back aggressively against behavior that we find intolerable,” Sullivan said. “And that's what we did today in partnership with our allies in issuing these sanctions for what China is doing to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”