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Xinjiang party secretary Chen Quanguo was singled out by the US lawmakers. Photo: AFP

China’s top Xinjiang official Chen Quanguo should face sanctions over alleged abuses, US lawmakers say

  • Cross-party group lament government’s ‘failure so far to impose any sanctions related to ongoing systemic human rights abuses in Xinjiang’
  • US should also step up disclosure requirements about Chinese companies complicit in rights violations, group says

A broad group of US lawmakers on Wednesday called for sanctions against China’s top official in the Xinjiang region over alleged abuses – including mass detentions – against the Uygur minority.

The letter signed by 24 senators – almost a quarter of the body – and 19 House members across party lines also called on the United States to step up disclosure requirements about Chinese companies held to be complicit in rights violations.

The lawmakers asked President Donald Trump’s administration to target Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary in the far-western Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, who previously held a similar position in Tibet and has become known for his handling of minorities.

UN investigators say that about a million people have been rounded up in Xinjiang in a massive network of cramped detention camps, with China pressing Uygurs to renounce Islam through actions such as forcing them to eat pork, which is forbidden for Muslims.

“We are disappointed with the administration’s failure so far to impose any sanctions related to the ongoing systemic and egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang,” said the letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials.

The lawmakers acknowledged the “strong rhetoric” from Vice-President Mike Pence and others but added, “words alone are not enough”.

The letter was signed by senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican close to Trump on foreign policy, and Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Others who signed it include Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential contender, and Representatives James McGovern and Chris Smith, who head a congressional commission on human rights.

The lawmakers asked the Trump administration to invoke the Magnitsky Act on Chen and other top officials in Xinjiang.

The act, named after a Russian accountant who died in detention, calls for the seizure of assets and a ban on US visits by any foreign official found to be behind human rights abuses.

China denies the accounts of mass detention, saying it is running educational training centres as part of a fight against Islamic extremism in Xinjiang.