China hits out at criticism over Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong

<p>FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021. Picture taken May 3, 2021.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo</p>
Xinjiang in particular has prompted the US to slap sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - China blacklisted four members of a US federal commission on religious freedom on Tuesday (Dec 21) in the latest tit-for-tat response to Washington's own sanctions targeting alleged perpetrators of genocide in Xinjiang.

The move came as Beijing also hit out at Washington for appointing a new special coordinator for Tibet and blasted global powers over their criticism of local elections in Hong Kong that vetted out the opposition.

China's treatment of Tibetans, Muslim minority Uighurs in Xinjiang and an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong have contributed to worsening diplomatic relations between Western powers and Beijing.

Xinjiang in particular has prompted Washington to slap sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies, as well as a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics, sparking fury in Beijing and reciprocal measures.

On Tuesday, China announced the latest targets - four members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Beijing's Foreign Ministry named chairman Nadine Maenza, vice-chairman Nury Turkel, as well as commissioners Anurima Bhargava and James W. Carr as newly sanctioned.

"These countermeasures include the prohibition of the above-mentioned persons from entering China and the freezing of their assets in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau," spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

"Chinese citizens and institutions are also prohibited from dealing with these people."

Set up in 1998, USCIRF is a federal commission that surveys religious freedom around the world and has been a vocal critic of China's treatment of Uighur Muslims, a rare bipartisan issue in polarised Washington.

The announcement came days after the US unleashed a volley of new actions over Xinjiang that included a ban on virtually all imports from the region - a major global cotton producer - over forced labour allegations.

It has also recently blacklisted Chinese companies like dronemaker DJI and artificial intelligence start-up SenseTime over their alleged work with the authorities in Xinjiang.

Tibet and Hong Kong

China's previous reciprocal sanctions have included European, British and US lawmakers, academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm.

Campaigners say that at least one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region after a series of bloody attacks.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have found evidence of what they say is mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation. Washington has described it as genocide.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

On Monday, the US also named a new "special coordinator for Tibetan Issues", who will be tasked with restarting dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China, as well as promoting "respect for the human rights" of Tibetans.

Mr Zhao said China was "firmly opposed" to the move.

"Tibet affairs are purely China's internal affairs and brook no interference from any foreign forces," he said on Tuesday.

He also took exception to criticism from the Group of Seven and European nations over this weekend's poll in Hong Kong.

World powers condemned Sunday's tightly vetted legislature vote in a series of coordinated statements that said Beijing's decision to reduce directly elected seats and control who could stand had eroded democracy in the Chinese territory.

"These Western countries should face up to the reality that Hong Kong has returned to China for 24 years," said Mr Zhao.

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