BEIJING—China said it would retaliate if the U.S. presses forward with sanctions over Beijing’s repression of Uighur Muslims—Washington’s second stand on China human rights in recent days, with trade talks facing uncertainty.
After the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring sanctions on officials responsible for the widespread detention of Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region, Beijing issued furious statements Wednesday calling it interference with China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.
The bill must be reconciled with a version passed by the Senate in September before it can become law.
“If you undermine China’s interests, you will be hit back,” China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
said at Wednesday’s daily news conference. She accused the U.S. of trying to foment unrest in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and compared it with U.S. policy in Afghanistan. President
last week drew protests from Beijing when he signed a bill supporting Hong Kong’s antigovernment protesters.
Ms. Hua declined to elaborate on the retaliation except to say it would affect bilateral cooperation, but a Tuesday tweet by
editor of state-run tabloid the Global Times, said visa restrictions on certain U.S. officials and a ban on entry into Xinjiang by holders of U.S. diplomatic passports were being considered. Mr. Hu’s tweets sometimes serve as trial balloons for Beijing policy.
China already limits foreigners’ entry into Tibet.
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The sanctions actions mark a “tectonic shift” for Washington, said
a leading scholar on Xinjiang policy, who works for a Washington, D.C., foundation. The Hong Kong protests and leaked documents from the Xinjiang government detailing the detention programs have increased support for sanctions, he said, despite the potential trade consequences.
“It’s significantly increased the moral cost of looking away,” he said.
Mr. Trump said Tuesday that he was willing to wait until after next year’s presidential election to strike a limited trade deal with China.
Academic researchers estimate that more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained without trial in Xinjiang in the past three years under the Communist Party’s campaign to forcibly assimilate the population. Deaths and torture have been reported at the camps, which Beijing calls vocational-training centers. China says President
is seeking to counter extremist tendencies among the remote northwest region’s Turkic Muslims, most of them Uighurs.
The House bill calls for sanctions on officials including
the Xinjiang party secretary who oversees the detention program, and tighter controls on exports of U.S. technology to China that could be used to suppress human rights.
Earlier in the long-running U.S.-China trade war, the Trump administration had been wary of human-rights issues, for fear of derailing a deal. But the Hong Kong protests’ grip on America’s imagination appears to have shifted the politics in Washington, analysts say.
The State Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection have held meetings in recent weeks on potentially tightening limits on imports from Xinjiang-based factories, said
president of the Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a U.S.-based advocacy group critical of Beijing.
Western scrutiny of the region’s labor conditions has intensified since a Wall Street Journal report in May that the supply chains of dozens of multinationals in the fashion and food industries, which often pass through the area, put them at risk of using forced labor in Xinjiang. Area residents are routinely forced into training programs that feed workers to area factories. Academic researchers confirmed those findings in a Congressional hearing in October.
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