Xinjiang: US adds more Chinese officials and companies to sanctions list

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The United States has sanctioned another two Chinese officials over alleged links to human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the far western region of Xinjiang.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said on Friday that the sanctions applied to Gao Qi, a former police chief at the Ili Kazakh autonomous prefecture in northern Xinjiang, and Hu Lianhe, an official from the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department responsible for shaping ideology and ensuring social stability in the region.

The office said it had frozen the officials’ US assets and barred any “US person” or anyone located in the US from dealing with the property unless they had permission from the office – permission that is hard to obtain.

Financial institutions and other people who provide money or goods to Gao or Hu could also attract secondary sanctions.

On the same day, the US State Department banned Gao and Hu from entry to the United States.

The sanctions were the latest of a string of measures from the US to punish Chinese companies and individuals allegedly involved in the persecution of Uygur people and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang.

Washington added three more Chinese companies to its sanctions list, accusing them of recruiting and exploiting people of ethnic minorities through their labour practices.

One company is involved in sugar production, another in textiles, and the third in electrical supplies and battery accessories.

US restrictions have previously focused on Xinjiang-sourced cotton, tomatoes, textiles and polysilicon – a key material to make solar cells.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said China condemned the sanctions.

“Such acts grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs, flagrantly violate the basic norms governing international relations and seriously undermine China-US relations,” he said.

Gao, a career police officer, headed Ili prefecture’s public security bureau as party secretary and chief from 2009 to 2022. He became a deputy secretary of the prefecture’s political and legal affairs commission in 2017.

Hu has been the deputy chief of the United Front Work Department’s ninth bureau since at least 2016.

The department’s WeChat account says the bureau coordinates and directs policy related to ensuring stability, ethnic unity, political ideology, economic development, education and labour in Xinjiang. It is also in charge of researching “important and sensitive issues”.

Hu was one of four officials sanctioned by the US State Department in 2021 on suspicion of human rights abuses.

In 2018, Hu told the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that “re-education centres” or “counter-extremism training centres” did not exist in Xinjiang.

A 2022 report by the UN human rights office said serious human rights violations were committed in Xinjiang with respect to the authorities’ strategy and policy against terrorism and “extremism”.

The report said vague concepts gave officials wide discretion to exercise their powers with little oversight, leading to the “large-scale arbitrary deprivation of liberty of members of Uygur and other predominantly Muslim communities” between 2017 and 2019 in Xinjiang at facilities including the “vocational education and training centres”.

Beijing has said that no internment camps exist in Xinjiang, only “vocational education and training centres” set up as schools for “deradicalisation” and counterterrorism. It rejected the UN report as “a patchwork of false information”.

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