US curbs China officials' visas, demands end to Uighur 'repression'

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US makes its most forceful attempt to address matters concerning the Uighurs and Muslim minorities. -AFP

WASHINGTON - The United States said Tuesday it would curb visas for Chinese officials until Beijing ends its "repression" of Uighurs and other Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, a day after imposing commercial restrictions.

The one-two punch by President Donald Trump's administration marks the most forceful attempt by a foreign power to address what some rights groups call a historic crisis in Xinjiang, and comes amid a range of feuds between the United States and China.

"China has forcibly detained over one million Muslims in a brutal, systematic campaign to erase religion and culture in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

"China must end its draconian surveillance and repression, release all those arbitrarily detained and cease its coercion of Chinese Muslims abroad," he said.

In an accompanying statement, Pompeo said that the State Department would restrict visas granted to government and ruling Communist Party officials involved in "detention or abuse" of Uighurs, Kazakhs or members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

The order will also affect their family members, including children who may be seeking to study in the United States.

The State Department did not specify the names of officials who would be affected.

But lawmakers have specifically asked for action against Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief for Xinjiang.

Reputed within the party for his handling of minority groups, he earlier led iron-fisted policies aimed at crushing dissent in Tibet.

The US Commerce Department on Monday blacklisted 28 Chinese entities including video surveillance firm Hikvision and artificial intelligence companies Megvii Technology and SenseTime over their involvement in Xinjiang.

Beijing voiced its "strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" over the move and denied any human rights abuses in the restive region.

"These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing.

Rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims are being held in a vast network of camps in Xinjiang aimed at homogenizing the population to reflect China's majority Han culture. -AFP


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