China on Wednesday said bilateral cooperation with Washington will be affected in important areas following the passing of the US bill that called for “targeted sanctions” against the Chinese government for carrying out “arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of Uyghur Muslims” in Xinjiang.
Beijing’s angry reaction came after the US House of Representatives passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act 2019, which seeks to sanction Chinese government officials including the Xinjiang Communist Party of China’s (CPC) secretary, Chen Quanguo.
More than a million Muslim Uyghurs are said to be held in strictly guarded reeducation camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur’s Autonomous Region in northwest China, many without having committed any crime.
Beijing has dismissed the allegations, claiming that the camps are for deradicalisation against religious extremism and vocational training for the inmates who are free to leave as well.
On Wednesday afternoon, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying said the bill will impact ties in important areas and that no one should underestimate Beijing’s resolve to safeguard its interests.
Hua was responding to a question on whether the bill would impact the ongoing trade talks with the US.
Asked about Beijing’s planned retaliatory measures, Hua said anyone who undermines China’s interests will pay the “due price”. Hua did not elaborate on the specific steps Beijing would take.
An earlier statement from the Chinese foreign ministry said the bill “wantonly smears China’s efforts to eliminate and combat extremism”.
“We urge the US to immediately correct its mistake, to stop the above bill on Xinjiang from becoming a law, to stop using Xinjiang as a way to interfere in China’s domestic affairs,” said the statement, which was also attributed to Hua.
Apart from the foreign ministry, China’s Parliament, the National People’s Congress and the country’s top consultative body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference strongly opposed the act, calling on the US to stop damaging bilateral cooperation.
The Xinjiang bill – still to be approved by the US Senate before it can be sent to President Donald Trump to be signed or vetoed – along with last week’s US bills supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong could set back the ongoing talks to resolve the protracted trade war between the two countries.
“This is seen as a continuing series of attacks really aimed not so much at freeing anybody or at human rights but at putting pressure on China on these trade negotiations going forward,” Beijing-based political analyst and government adviser Einar Tangen told media reporters.
What could have particularly irked Beijing was the specific mention of Xinjiang CPC party secretary, Chen Quanguo, member of the powerful Politburo, one of the top decision making bodies in the Chinese system.
Chen has been Xinjiang party secretary since 2016 and earlier headed the party in the Tibet Autonomous Region for five years.
The World Uyghur Congress, an international collective of exiled Uyghurs, welcomed the US move.
The bill not only gives Uyghurs hope but also helps give a broader understanding of China’s systemic persecution of Uyghurs. The action is also a deterrent,” spokesperson, Dilxat Raxit said in a statement.