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U.S. Hits Xinjiang Leaders With Sanctions Over 'Gross' Rights Abuses

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Guards monitor Uyghur inmates at a reeducation camp in northwestern China's Xinjiang region. (file photo)

The United States on December 10 imposed financial sanctions and visa bans on former and current government officials and entities in nine countries, including China and Russia, to coincide with International Human Rights Day.

The sanctions targeted Chinese authorities involved in the repression of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities and a Russian university that helps North Korea raise hard currency.

The State Department action makes 12 current and former officials from six countries -- Uganda, China, Belarus, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Mexico -- ineligible along with their immediate family to enter the U.S. under a law that authorizes banning people involved with a “gross violation of human rights or significant corruption.”

A separate coordinated set of actions by the Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions and other restrictions on 15 people and 10 entities in China, Burma, Russia, North Korea, and Bangladesh.

In addition, Canada and the U.K. joined with the United States in imposing the latest in a series of measures aimed at preventing military authorities in Burma, also known as Myanmar, from using the global finance system in response to the overthrow of the democratically elected government.

“We are determined to put human rights at the center of our foreign policy and we reaffirm this commitment by using appropriate tools and authorities to draw attention to and promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses, no matter where they occur,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in announcing the measures.

The Russian university that was sanctioned is the European Institute Justo. The university and its provost, Dmitry Yurevich Soin, were sanctioned for sponsoring hundreds of work visas for construction workers from North Korea as part of what the U.S. says is a coercive and abusive overseas labor program that helps the repressive North Korean government get hard currency.

Some of these workers were affiliated with a North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) entity, and the revenue their labor generated could have been used to support North Korean WMD programs, the Treasury Department said.

Two Chinese government officials who have been involved with the repression of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang were among those banned from entering the U.S.

Treasury also imposed investment restrictions on the artificial intelligence company SenseTime Group, saying its facial-recognition software has been used by the authorities to identify and control Uyghurs and members of Xinjiang’s other indigenous, mostly Muslim ethnic groups.

China's embassy in Washington denounced the U.S. move as "serious interference in China's internal affairs" and a "severe violation of basic norms governing international relations."

Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said it would do "grave harm to China-U.S. relations" and urged Washington to rescind the decision.

The measures are the latest in a raft of sanctions timed to coincide with Biden's two-day virtual Summit for Democracy at which he announced initiatives to bolster democracy around the world and support for pro-democracy legislation in the United States.

Biden said on December 10 that commitments made by some of the more than 100 world leaders at the summit would push back against rising autocracy around the world, fight corruption, and promote human rights.

"This is going to help seed fertile ground for democracy to bloom around the world," he said in a speech closing the summit.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson on December 11 reacted angrily to the summit, saying "democracy has long become a weapon of mass destruction used by the U.S. to interfere in other countries."

The ministry also claimed the summit was organized by the U.S. to "draw lines of ideological prejudice, instrumentalize and weaponize democracy...(and) incite division and confrontation."

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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