U.S. imposes sanctions on Chinese company over abuse of Uighurs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on a powerful Chinese company in the Xinjiang province and two officials for what it said were human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.

The move, the latest blow to U.S.-China relations, came a week after U.S. President Donald Trump closed the Chinese consulate in Houston, prompting Beijing to shutter the U.S. consulate in Chengdu.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement it blacklisted the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, also known as XPCC, along with Sun Jinlong, former party secretary of the XPCC, and Peng Jiarui, deputy party secretary and commander of the XPCC, over accusations they are connected to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities rank as the stain of the century,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

China denies that Uighurs are unfairly marginalized, and says it is addressing underdevelopment and lack of jobs in heavily Uighur areas.

Washington’s action freezes any U.S. assets of the company and officials; generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them; and bars Sun Jinlong and Peng Jiarui from traveling to the United States.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the company as a “a secretive, paramilitary organization that performs a variety of functions under the direct control” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“Their stated goals are to develop Xinjiang economically, secure the border and maintain stability there but in reality they are directly involved in the implementation of the CCP’s comprehensive surveillance, detention and indoctrination profarm in Xinjiang which we all know targets the Uighurs and members of other ethnic minority members in Xinjiang,” the official said.

The Treasury also issued a license on Friday, authorizing certain wind-down and divestment transactions and activities related to blocked subsidiaries of the XPCC until Sept. 30.

Three weeks ago, Washington imposed sanctions on the autonomous region of Xinjiang’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of China’s powerful Politburo and current first party secretary of the XPCC, and three other officials. Chen was described as the highest ranking Chinese official that the United States has blacklisted.

The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps is a quasi-military group created in 1954. It was initially made up of demobilized soldiers who spent time in military training while developing farms on the region’s arid land.

Civilian members from eastern China later joined the corps, which now numbers 3.11 million people, or more than 12% of the region’s population. It is almost entirely made up of Han Chinese in a region that is home to the Muslim Uighur people.

Experts have said the group is like a “state within a state” and has established new cities in the region with schools and universities and jurisdiction over police and courts.

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