US slaps sanctions on Chinese paramilitary body in Xinjiang

The US is accusing the body of abuses against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim groups. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Friday (July 31) imposed sanctions on a major paramilitary group with vast interests in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, accusing it of abuses against Uighurs and other mostly Muslim groups.

The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which runs its own settlements, universities and media in the region geared at China's Han majority, will have any US-based assets frozen, the Treasury Department said.

"The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Founded in the 1950s under orders of communist China's founder Mao Zedong, the Corps, known locally as the Bingtuan, settled demobilised soldiers on work farms in Xinjiang.

It gradually came to run a vast amount of farm land as well as businesses in areas such as real estate, insurance, plastics and cement.

Human rights groups say that China has in recent years stepped up the migration of ethnic Han to the region and has tried to forcibly homogenise Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims, including prohibiting them from many Islamic practices.

Activists say that some one million Uighurs and other Turkic people have been incarcerated in brainwashing camps, a mass detention that US officials have said has parallels to the Holocaust.

China describes the camps as vocational training centres and says it is seeking to provide education to reduce the allure of Islamic radicalism.

The United States earlier in July froze the visas and any US assets of three officials over rights in Xinjiang including Chen Quanguo, the Communist party chief in the region.

The Treasury Department said it was taking action against the Bingtuan in part for links to Chen, an architect of Beijing's iron-fisted policies toward minorities who previously served in Tibet.

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