China condemns U.S. visa restrictions imposed over treatment of Muslim Uighurs

The Chinese Embassy in Washington on Tuesday denounced the U.S. imposition of visa restrictions on some Chinese officials over Beijing’s treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as interference in China’s internal affairs.

The U.S. decision “seriously violates the basic norms governing international relations, interferes in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s interests. China deplores and firmly opposes that,” an embassy spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“Xinjiang does not have the so-called human rights issue claimed by the US. The accusations by the US side are merely made-up pretexts for its interference,” the spokesperson said. 

The Trump administration on Tuesday slapped travel bans on Chinese officials involved in a massive crackdown against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in its west.

The U.S. State Department said it would not issue visas to Chinese government and Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for or complicit in mass detentions and abuses in western Xinjiang province. It did not identify the targeted officials or say how many were affected by the ban, which can also be applied to their immediate family members.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged China to halt its “campaign of repression” in the region, release all those arbitrarily detained and stop trying to coerce members of Chinese Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged China to halt its ‘campaign of repression’ against Muslim minorities in its western Xinjiang province. (Mandel Ngan/Reuters)

“The protection of human rights is of fundamental importance, and all countries must respect their human rights obligations and commitments,” Pompeo said. “The United States will continue to review its authorities to respond to these abuses.”

The announcement came a day after the Commerce Department blacklisted Chinese government agencies and a number of Chinese companies that develop facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technology the U.S. says is being used to repress Muslim minorities.

The U.S. decision, which drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing, targets 20 Chinese public security bureaus and eight companies including video surveillance firm Hikvision, as well as leaders in facial recognition technology SenseTime Group and Megvii Technology Ltd.

The action bars the firms from buying components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval — a potentially crippling move for some of them. It follows the same blueprint used by Washington in its attempt to limit the influence of Huawei Technologies for what it says are national security reasons.

U.S. officials said the action was not tied to this week’s resumption of trade talks with China, but it signals no let-up in U.S. President Donald Trump’s hard-line stance as the world’s two biggest economies seek to end their 15-month trade war.

The Commerce Department said in a filing that the “entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.”

“The U.S. government and Department of Commerce cannot and will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

China said the United States should stop interfering in its affairs. It will continue to take firm and resolute measures to protect its sovereign security, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a regular media briefing without elaborating.

Hikvision, with a market value of about $ 42 billion US, calls itself the world’s largest maker of video surveillance gear.

SenseTime, valued at around $ 4.5 billion in a May 2018 fundraising, is one of the world’s most valuable AI unicorns, while Megvii, backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, is valued at around $ 4 billion and preparing an IPO to raise at least $ 500 million in Hong Kong.

The other companies on the list are speech recognition firm iFlytek Co, surveillance equipment maker Zhejiang Dahua Technology, data recovery firm Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co, facial recognition firm Yitu Technology, and Yixin Science and Technology Co.

A U.S. Hikvision spokesperson said the company “strongly opposes” the decision. It said that in January, it retained a human rights expert and former U.S. ambassador to advise the company on human rights compliance.

“Punishing Hikvision, despite these engagements, will deter global companies from communicating with the U.S. government, hurt Hikvision’s U.S. businesses partners and negatively impact the U.S. economy,” the company added.

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