China sanctions US research firm and 2 individuals over reports on human rights abuses in Xinjiang

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China says it is banning a United States research company and two analysts who have reported extensively on claims of human rights abuses committed against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups native to the country’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as announcing late Tuesday night that Los Angeles-based research and data analytics firm Kharon, its director of investigations, Edmund Xu, and Nicole Morgret, a human rights analyst affiliated with the Centre for Advanced Defence Studies, would be barred from travelling to China.

Also, any assets or property they have in China will be frozen and organisations and individuals in China are prohibited from making transactions or otherwise cooperating with them. In a statement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Mao said the sanctions against the company, Xu and Morgret were retaliation for a yearly US government report on human rights in Xinjiang. Uyghurs and other natives of the region share religious, linguistic and cultural links with the scattered peoples of Central Asia and have long resented the Chinese Communist Party’s heavy-handed control and attempts to assimilate them with the majority Han ethnic group.

In a paper published in June 2022, Morgret wrote, “The Chinese government is undertaking a concerted drive to industrialise the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), which has led an increasing number of corporations to establish manufacturing operations there. This centrally-controlled industrial policy is a key tool in the government’s efforts to forcibly assimilate Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples through the institution of a coerced labour regime.” Such reports draw from a wide range of sources, including independent media, non-governmental organizations and groups that may receive commercial and governmental grants or other outside funding.

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China has long denied such allegations, saying the large-scale network of prison-like facilities through which passed hundreds of thousands of Muslim citizens were intended only to rid them of violent, extremist tendencies and teach them job skills. Former inmates describe harsh conditions imposed without legal process and demands that they denounce their culture and sing the praises of President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party daily. China says the camps are all now closed, but many of their former inmates have reportedly been given lengthy prison sentences elsewhere. Access to the region by journalists, diplomats and others is tightly controlled, as is movement outside the region by Uyghurs, Kazaks and other Muslim minorities.

“By issuing the report, the United States once again spread false stories on Xinjiang and illegally sanctioned Chinese officials and companies citing so-called human rights issues,” Mao was quoted as saying. “If the United States refuses to change course, China will not flinch and will respond in kind,” Mao was quoted as telling reporters at an earlier news briefing. The US has slapped visa bans and a wide range of other sanctions on dozens of officials from China and the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, including the country’s former defence minister, who disappeared under circumstances China has yet to explain.

China’s foreign minister also was replaced this year with no word on his fate, fuelling speculation that party leader and head of state for life Xi is carrying out a purge of officials suspected of collaborating with foreign governments or simply showing insufficient loyalty to China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao Zedong. Hong Kong’s government has cracked down heavily on freedom of speech and democracy since China imposed a sweeping national security law in response to massive anti-government protests in 2019. Neither Xu or Morgret could immediately be reached for comment, and it wasn’t clear what degree of connection, if any, they had with the US government.