The United States says it has imposed sanctions on a Chinese government entity and two current or former officials for their alleged involvement in "serious rights abuses" against Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim ethnic groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
These designations include the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), the Treasury Department said on July 31, describing the entity as "a paramilitary organization…that is subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party" and "enhances internal control over the region by advancing China’s vision of economic development."
The two newly sanctioned individuals include Peng Jiarui, the deputy party secretary and commander of the XPCC, and Sun Jinlong, a former political commissar of the XPCC.
The action freezes any U.S. assets of the company and officials, and prohibits Americans from doing business with them.
"As previously stated, 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 T. Mnuchin said in a statement.
The move comes amid a deterioration of relations between the United States and China, and an intensifying U.S. effort to pressure Beijing over gross human rights abuses reported in the Xinjiang region.
Beijing is accused of placing more than 1 million Uyghurs and members of other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in internment camps and prisons where, since early 2017, they have been physically abused, subjected to ideological discipline, and forced to denounce their religion and language.
China says the camps are reeducation and training centers needed to combat separatist terrorism and extremism.
Peter Harrell, a sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security, said that, from an economic perspective, the sanctions announced on July 31 are a "substantial escalation" of U.S. pressure and sends a warning to companies engaged in activity in China.
The administration of President Donald Trump "finally took a meaningful sanctions...action on Xinjiang, as opposed to ones that were primarily symbolic," Harrell told the Reuters news agency.
Founded in the 1950s, the XPCC initially settled demobilized soldiers on work farms in Xinjiang, and gradually came to run a vast amount of farmland, as well as businesses in areas including real estate, insurance, and cement.
Experts say the organization, which is said to number more than 3 million people, has administrative authority over several cities and is almost entirely made up of Han Chinese.
Chen Quanguo, the current first political commissar of the XPCC and Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, was sanctioned by Washington earlier this month.