Politburo Member Faces U.S. Sanctions as ICC Considers Xinjiang Genocide Case

Since 2017, as many as two million Uyghurs have been held in a mass detention campaign as part of a broader crackdown on local Uyghur culture and religiosity,  While Chinese authorities continually deny claims made in a growing chorus of censure from foreign lawmakers, rights groups, academics, editorial boards, and celebrities, evidence of forced laborpolitical indoctrination, abuse, and death inside the camps has emerged through former detainees and staff.

This week, the United States announced new Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against high-ranking Chinese officials responsible for rights violations in Xinjiang. BBC News reports:

The sanctions target the US-connected financial interests of regional Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo and three other officials. China denies any mistreatment of Muslims in far-western Xinjiang.

[…] Mr Chen, who sits on the Chinese Communist Party’s powerful Politburo, is the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to be hit by US sanctions, the Trump administration says. He is seen as the architect of Beijing’s policies against minorities, and was previously in charge in Tibet.

The other officials targeted are Wang Mingshan, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; Zhu Hailun, a senior party member in Xinjiang, and former security official Huo Liujun.

It is now a crime in the US to conduct financial transactions with all of them, and they will have their US-based assets frozen.

[…] Sanctions have also been placed on the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau as a whole. […] [Source]

From U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s July 9 press statement:

The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.

I am designating three senior CCP officials under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2020 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, for their involvement in gross violations of human rights:  Chen Quanguo, the Party Secretary of the XUAR; Zhu Hailun, Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee (XPLC); and Wang Mingshan, the current Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB).  As a result, they and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.

I am also placing additional visa restrictions on other CCP officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang pursuant to the policy announced in October 2019 under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Their family members may also be subject to these restrictions.

[…] The United States is taking action today against the horrific and systematic abuses in Xinjiang and calls on all nations who share our concerns about the CCP’s attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms to join us in condemning this behavior. [Source]

CCP Politburo member and Xinjiang chief Chen Quanguo is widely credited for using his earlier experience enacting repressive policies in Tibet to create the “perfect police state” in Xinjiang. These new sanctions, which follow the U.S. House’s approval of the Uyghur Rights Act late last year and committee calls for executive action last week, come amid multi-front diplomatic battles between Beijing and Washington. The unusually high-level targets named have some foreign policy experts noting the lack of precedence and urging restraint from the Trump administration. At Bloomberg, Nick Wadhams, Saleha Mohsin, and Jenny Leonard report, noting suggestions that the sanctions’ would lack real impact on China:

Given Chen’s rank in the party hierarchy, which is comparable to a member of the U.S. cabinet, the move is also likely to infuriate President Xi Jinping’s government. Even though the sanctions were weeks in the making, the timing may be seen as deliberate because Treasury announced the move hours after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a major speech that called for better ties.

[…] “We’re in uncharted territory right now,” said Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, who’s now vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “There’s never been an administration that thought the pursuit of top-level party officials would end well for either side.”

[…] “The Wang Yi speech is a game plan for restoring some stability in the relationship and it’s taken very seriously on the Chinese side,” said Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego. “It would be nice if somebody could give some kind of response before we whacked them again.”

[…] The move has “more symbolic significance than real impact,” said Zhou Qi, director of the Institute of American Studies at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “If some of them were planning to send their sons and daughters to study in the U.S., there will likely to be some impact on them individually. But in the view of the general public in China, the sanctions may not be a big deal for China as a country.”

More from The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi:

Even amid a trend of worsening U.S.-China relations, the latest step stands out. Despite longstanding criticisms of China’s Communist Party for human rights abuses, it’s rare for Chinese officials to be hit with Magnitsky Sanctions. That’s only happened once previously, in the case of Gao Yan, who was director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau Chaoyang Branch where lawyer and human rights activist Cao Shunli died in custody in 2014. Other sanctions targeting Chinese citizens have instead been justified by economic espionage charges or accused violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran or North Korea. And no previous sanctions have targeted an official as high-ranking as Chen, who is a member of the CCP’s Politburo, the top 25 officials in China.

The new sanctions definitively up the ante for U.S.-China tensions. As of this writing, China had not yet responded, but retaliation is assured. [Source]

Beijing has indeed promised to retaliate. From the AP:

China will “definitely fight back” against actions it considers interference in its internal affairs and that which threaten its sovereignty, security and development interests, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing.

Zhao said China “strongly opposes and condemns” the Trump administration’s decision to bar the three officials from entering the U.S., the latest in a series moves taken against China as relations deteriorate over the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Hong Kong and trade.

“In response to the wrong practice of the U.S., China decided to take reciprocal measures against the relevant U.S. institutions and individuals who performed badly on the Xinjiang-related issues,” Zhao said. [Source]

In a related and similarly unprecedented diplomatic episode this week, two Uyghur activist groups filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court over Beijing’s global campaign to repatriate overseas Uyghurs. If accepted, the complaint would launch an ICC investigation into Beijing for genocide and crimes against humanity. The New York Times’ Marlise Simons reports, noting that the potential investigation would also highlight the wider trend of the CCP’s increasing global assertion:

A team of London-based lawyers representing two Uighur activist groups has filed a complaint against Beijing for pursuing the repatriation of thousands of Uighurs through unlawful arrests in or deportation from Cambodia and Tajikistan. The case could bring greater international scrutiny of the Chinese state’s power to impose its will beyond its borders.

The lawyers’ 80-page filing includes a list of more than 30 Chinese officials they said were responsible for the campaign, including Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader.

[…] The court’s mandate is to seek justice for victims of genocide, war crimes and other atrocities. But China does not recognize its jurisdiction, raising the question of how far the case will go.

Rodney Dixon, a British lawyer leading the case, said it circumvented the issue of jurisdiction over Beijing by focusing on claims of unlawful acts by China in Cambodia and Tajikistan, two countries that are members of the court.

“This can become a critical case because for so long it has been assumed that nothing could be done to hold China accountable at an international court,” Mr. Dixon said by telephone from London before traveling to The Hague. [Source]

Launched in 2014, the crackdown that has culminated in the mass detention program has also included policies limiting Islamic dress and custom, and a high-tech and near ubiquitous surveillance network, and has previously been called an act of “cultural genocide” by commentators. Last week, an early source of substantive evidence on the existence of the internment camps made the argument that recently published evidence of an ethnic sterilization program in Xinjiang could also fit the technical definition of genocide. At Foreign Policy, Zenz wrote:

[…] These [target numbers] are direct quotes from the 2019 family planning budget of Hotan, the capital city of a prefecture with a population of 2.53 million in in southern Xinjiang, China. The neighboring county of Guma, population 322,000, set a similarly precise “performance target” figure of 5,970 intrauterine contraception device (IUD) placements and 8,064 female sterilizations for that year.

These two counties, predominantly home to members of the Uighur ethnic minority, planned to sterilize approximately 14 and 34 percent of women between 18 and 49—in a single year. Per capita, that represents more sterilizations than China performed in the 20 years between 1998 and 2018 combined. Documents from Xinjiang’s Health Commission indicate that this is part of a wider project targeting all of Xinjiang’s southern minority regions in 2019 and 2020.

Since 2017, up to 1.8 million Uighurs, Kazaks, and other Turkic minority groups in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang have been swept up in what is probably the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust. Exile Uighurs and China researchers have described this campaign as a “cultural genocide.” Now, new research I published this month with the Jamestown Foundation provides strong evidence that Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang also meet the physical genocide criterion cited in Section D of Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the [targeted] group.”

Starting in 2018, a growing number of female former internment camp detainees testified that they were given injections that coincided with changes in or cessation of their menstrual cycles. Others reported that they were forcibly fitted with IUDs prior to internment or subjected to sterilization surgeries. […] [Source]

Zenz has provided steady analysis on the topic, and has previously published on leaked information obtained during his research. Following his most recent publications and related media coverage, China’s state media published English-language attack articles attempting to discredit him and announcing Beijing’s consideration of suing him for libel.

The Washington Post editorial board has expressed agreement with Zenz‘ argument: “The measures fall within the definition of genocide in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which includes ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.’ China is a signatory but rejects the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.” On Twitter, law professor and PRC legal expert Donald Clarke also weighed in:


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