July 13 (UPI) -- China announced sanctions Monday targeting U.S. politicians in retaliation for the Trump administration's blacklisting Chinese government officials over human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region.
U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Republican Rep. Chris Smith were sanctioned, as was the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a daily news briefing.
It was unclear exactly what the sanctions include, other than they were effective immediately.
The move came in response to the Trump administration on Thursday blacklisting four Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, who holds one of 25 seats on the powerful policymaking Politburo, for contributing to the human rights abuses being committed in Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party there has been accused by the United Nations, the United States and activists of detaining more than 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in detention camps.
China has repeatedly denied the allegations, claiming the camps are training centers whose purpose is to stamp out extremism in the name of counterterrorism, while urging the United States and other nations who have condemned its human rights record to stop meddling in its internal affairs.
"Xinjiang internal affairs are China's internal affairs, and the U.S. has no right to interfere," Hua said Monday, vowing Beijing would take further actions to punish Washington if deemed necessary. "The Chinese government is determined to guard national sovereignty, security and development interests and is determined in fighting terrorists, violent separatists and religious extremists forces and determined in opposing external interference."
Those named by China on Monday have repeatedly called it out for its treatment of its Uyghur citizens, with Rubio having authored a bill President Donald Trump signed into law last month to impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The move comes amid escalating tensions between the two countries as Washington has increased its vocal condemnation of Beijing's human rights record and has also passed legislation to punish its officials it deems responsible for the abuses being committed against its Muslim minorities and protesters in Hong Kong. The United States has also lambasted China over allegations it attempted to cover up its initial coronavirus outbreak.
Cruz, who led the successful initiative to blacklist companies that the CCP use to oppress Uyghurs, responded to the sanctions stating the Chinese Communist Party "is terrified and lashing out."
"These are egregious human rights atrocities that cannot be tolerated," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately for CCP leaders, I don't have plans to travel to the authoritarian regime that covered up the coronavirus pandemic and endangered millions of lives worldwide."
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China replied that the sanctions are an attempt by Beijing to intimidate and silence those who are critical of its policies that violate human rights and that it won't back down.
"The CECC will not be silenced and will continue to press the U.S. and the international community to stand together and shine a bright light on Beijing's human rights abuses and the officials who carry them out," its chairs said in a statement.