China said Friday it will impose tit-for-tat measures on US institutions and individuals who "behave badly" on Xinjiang-related issues after Washington slapped sanctions on Chinese officials over a crackdown on Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the region.
The Chinese response came after the US announced visa bans and an assets freeze on three officials, including Chen Quanquo, the Chinese Communist Party chief in Xinjiang and architect of Beijing's hardline policies against restive minorities.
"The US actions seriously interfere in China's internal affairs, seriously violate the basic norms of international relations, and seriously damage China-US relations," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a briefing.
"In response to the wrong actions of the US, China has decided to impose reciprocal measures against the relevant US institutions and individuals who behave badly on Xinjiang-related issues," Zhao said without providing details about the sanctions.
Witnesses and human rights groups say that China has rounded up more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in a vast brainwashing campaign aimed at forcibly homogenising minorities into the country's Han majority.
China counters that the facilities are benign vocational education centres where "students" learn Mandarin and job skills in an effort to eradicate extremism following a spate of deadly violence.
The US sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington to target human rights violators worldwide by freezing any US assets, banning US travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.
Sanctions 'no joke'
The highly anticipated action followed months of criticism of China over its handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and its tightening grip on Hong Kong.
A senior US administration official who briefed reporters after the sanctions were announced described Chen as the highest ranking Chinese official ever sanctioned by Washington.
The blacklisting is "no joke," he said. "Not only in terms of symbolic and reputational affect, but it does have real meaning on a person's ability to move around the world and conduct business."
Sanctions were also imposed on Zhu Hailun, a former deputy party secretary and current deputy secretary of regional legislative body the Xinjiang's People's Congress; Wang Mingshan, the director and Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; and former party secretary of the bureau Huo Liujun.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was also barring Chen, Zhu, Wang and their immediate families, as well as other unnamed Chinese Communist Party officials, from traveling to the United States.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)