By Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. must fully implement sanctions on China over its Xinjiang policies, a U.S. Congressional committee told the State Department, demanding reasons why Washington had not yet imposed restrictions on some officials who were related to abuses in the Chinese region.
Congress has passed laws in recent years to pressure China over what the State Department says is an ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other largely Muslim minority groups from Xinjiang.
But the House of Representatives Committee on China said in a letter that the Biden administration has not issued sanctions under any of those laws — the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (UHRPA) passed in 2020 — which requires the US President, absent a waiver, to identify and punish Chinese officials responsible for abuses.
Beijing denies all abuses in Xinjiang.
The US has imposed sanctions on a handful of Chinese officials and entities linked to Xinjiang through various channels, including the Global Magnitsky Act and by executive order, actions that activists say are inadequate to the scale of the atrocities committed.
“The United States must take action to hold PRC perpetrators accountable to deter further human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other groups,” committee chairman Mike Gallagher said in a letter to Secretary of State State Department Antony Blinken. and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Some Xinjiang experts say the alleged mass internment of Uyghurs peaked in 2018, but abuses have continued and forced labor and labor transfers have become increasingly prominent.
The letter, dated September 19, asked Blinken and Mayorkas to explain why certain Chinese officials, including Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Ma Xingrui, had not been sanctioned for their role in formulating and implementing China’s crackdown.
It also asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to explain why dozens of Xinjiang-linked companies had not been added to an entity list under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that would ban their imports.
The State Department has long considered sanctions under the UHRPA, but Reuters reported in May that related measures were among those postponed in the wake of a diplomatic crisis sparked by the U.S. downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over US territory earlier this year.
The Biden administration has argued that it never targets China, but senior officials have recognized the importance of getting the policy “sequenced” right.
“This administration has used, and will continue to use, a variety of tools and diplomatic tactics to promote accountability for the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.” , said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. said.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in August and said maintaining social stability was a top priority, activists said, as he doubled down on his approach.
“(Xi) feels no pressure to pretend to do anything other than continue on this path,” said Julie Millsap of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Daniel Wallis)