China has placed sanctions on US and Canadian citizens in retaliation for the decision this week by the US, EU, UK and Canada to take punitive action over Beijing’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it had imposed sanctions on Gayle Manchin, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Tony Perkins, the vice-chair of the commission. China also targeted Michael Chong, a Canadian lawmaker, and a Canadian parliamentary committee that deals with human rights.
“The individuals concerned are prohibited from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau . . . and Chinese citizens and institutions are prohibited from doing business with the relevant individuals and having exchanges with the relevant entity,” the foreign ministry said.
The US, EU, UK and Canada on Monday took co-ordinated action to sanction four senior Chinese officials — including two who were already on the US sanctions list — for their role in the detention of 1m Muslim Uyghurs who are detained in labour camps in Xinjiang.
China is coming under growing pressure over the persecution of the Uyghurs ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, followed his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, in calling the situation a “genocide”. The Canadian and Dutch parliaments have also voted to describe it as “genocide”.
China on Monday responded immediately to the western sanctions by imposing retaliatory sanctions on European entities and individuals, including members of the European parliament. On Friday, it put sanctions on four UK-based groups and nine British citizens, including Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader.
China has not imposed sanctions on any Biden administration officials so far. In the final week of the Trump administration, it targeted Pompeo and nine other US individuals on a list of 28 targets.
The retaliatory moves underscore the dramatic worsening in the relationship between the US and China. While relations soured significantly during the Trump administration, they have continued to spiral downwards.
US and Chinese officials last week had an extraordinary public spat when they met in Alaska for their first high-level meeting since Joe Biden became president.
US officials said the private portion of the meeting was more cordial, but the two-day event ended with Blinken effectively refusing an offer to hold follow-on talks in Beijing.
When Yang Jiechi, the top Chinese official, made the invitation, Blinken said “Thank you”. When Yang pressed if that meant “Yes”, Blinken replied, “Thank you means thank you”, signalling that he meant “No”.
The Financial Times reported this week that the Biden administration is also increasingly concerned that China is flirting with the idea of launching a military attack on Taiwan to seize control of the country, which Beijing reviews as a renegade province. One top US admiral has warned that the military action could come within six years.
The latest Chinese sanctions came after global apparel companies, which have been relying on the rebounding Chinese market to prop up their post-pandemic finances, faced boycotts in China over pledges not to use cotton from Xinjiang.
State-run Chinese media have stoked boycotts of western brands, including H&M and Nike, by circulating historic statements of concern from the groups about the use of forced labour in Xinjiang. British luxury group Burberry also faced a backlash.
Products were unavailable on ecommerce sites, celebrities resigned from their roles as brand ambassadors, and searches on Chinese sites for their physical stores showed no results.
The move highlighted the tricky balancing act the brands face. In the three months through February, Nike’s Greater China pre-tax earnings rose 75 per cent year-on-year to $973m, slightly more than their North America total.
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