Beijing on Thursday said it had slapped sanctions on an unspecified number of US officials who “concocted lies” about human rights in China.
The tit-for-tat move comes after Washington announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials accused of repressing religious and ethnic minorities in the far-western region of Xinjiang.
US-China relations have reached their lowest point in decades, most recently aggravated by Beijing’s perceived support for Russia as it carries out a bloody invasion of Ukraine.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week urged China to “end its ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang, as Washington announced sanctions on unnamed Chinese officials.
On Thursday Beijing said it would “impose reciprocal visa restrictions on US officials”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the sanctions would apply to those “who concocted lies on human rights issues involving China, promoted and implemented sanctions on China, and harmed China’s rights and interests”.
“The US uses the pretext of so-called human rights issues to concoct malicious lies, and uses these as a reason to interfere in China’s internal affairs, smear China’s image and suppress Chinese officials.”
Wang did not disclose the names of the officials to be sanctioned or the extent of the visa restrictions but said the move was in line with China’s anti-foreign sanctions law implemented last year.
Rights groups estimate up to one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities have been detained across Xinjiang in a network of “re-education camps” as part of an “anti-terrorism” crackdown.
Blinken last week said the US sanctions mainly targeted Chinese officials complicit in policies that repressed minorities, dissidents, human rights activists and journalists.
He criticised efforts by China to “harass, intimidate, surveil, and abduct members of ethnic and religious minority groups, including those who seek safety abroad”.
“We again call on the PRC government to cease its acts of transnational repression, including attempting to silence Uyghur American activists and other Uyghur individuals,” Blinken said.
The US announcement came a few days after President Joe Biden spoke via video call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as part of American efforts to dissuade Xi from supporting Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.