July 9 (UPI) -- In a move that is expected to further fray relations between Washington and Beijing, the Trump administration on Thursday sanctioned four Chinese government officials, including one of the 25 members of the powerful policymaking Politburo, over allegations they are contributing to the human rights abuses being committed against Uyghur Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
The U.S. Treasury blacklisted Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where China has been accused of detaining some 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in concentration camps.
China has vehemently denied the allegations, referring to the camps as training centers whose purpose is to stamp out extremism in the name of counterterrorism.
The move is the latest to target Chinese officials by the United States, which has recently increased pressure on China over its human rights abuses, imposing sanctions and passing legislation to punish members of China's Communist Party for repressive actions taken against protesters in Hong Kong and Uyghur Muslims.
"The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang to include force labor, arbitrary mass detention and force population control and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday in a statement.
In U.S. reports published over the past year, the State Department has detailed unlawful killings, forced disappearances, torture, severe restrictions on religious freedoms and forced labor being committed against China's Muslim minorities.
The sanctions also follow recent reports that Uyghur and other Muslims in Xinjiang are being subjected to forced sterilization and abortions by the Chinese Communist Party that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said might meet the criteria for genocide under international law.
Zhu Hailu, a former deputy party secretary under Chen, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau Director and Communist Party Secretary Wang Mingshan and former XPSB Party Secretary Huo Liujun were also blacklisted Thursday as was the XPSB.
"These are very serious sanctions that were put in place by this administration to take strong action against the human rights abuses of the Chinese Communist Party," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday in the West Wing, stating it is a continuation of the Trump administration's "very strong stance on the side of human rights against the atrocities we've seen."
The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that allows the United States to freeze all U.S. property and assets of those deemed to be committing serious human rights abuses and participating in corruption around the world that constitute "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States," according to the executive order signed by President Donald Trump in December of 2017.
Pompeo on Thursday also announced he imposed visa restrictions on other CCP officials accused of being complicit in the human rights abuses being committed in Xinjiang.
UPI has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment.
China has repeatedly balked at such accusations, often threatening to retaliate and demanding the United States to stop meddling in its internal affairs.
According to the Treasury, Chen arrived in Xinjiang in 2016 and shortly after the construction of detention camps escalated and he began implementing "a comprehensive surveillance, detention and indoctrination program" that targeted Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities through the XPSB.
Zhu, the Treasury said, established the policies and procedures for managing the detention camps to prevent people from escaping and "abnormal deaths."
The two XPSB officials were being blacklisted over the security bureau's deployment of an artificial intelligence-assisted computer system that created biometric records for millions of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region used to track their movements and activities, the federal department said.
"At last, real consequences have begun," Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "This comes at the 11th hour for Uyghurs. A global response is long overdue."