China Bans 4 U.S. Officials in Response to Sanctions Levied By Biden Administration

China announced new sanctions against U.S. government officials on Tuesday in retaliation for the Biden administration's recently imposed penalties against Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses.

China's sanctions ban four members of the Commission on International Religious Freedom from visiting mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, while any of their assets in the country will be frozen, according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

The commission's chairwoman, Nadine Maenza, deputy chairman Nury Turkel and members Anurima Bhargava and James Carr were identified as the four banned officials. Zhao did not say whether any of them currently have assets in China.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced the U.S. sanctions on December 10, coinciding with International Human Rights Day. The measures were meant to place barriers in the global financial system for the people and bodies targeted.

"On International Human Rights Day, Treasury is using its tools to expose and hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights abuse," Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said while making the announcement.

Shohrat Zakir and Erken Tuniyaz, two Chinese government officials linked to the alleged repression and forced assimilation of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in the Xinjiang region, were prohibited by the sanctions from traveling to the U.S. Zakir is the former chairman and Tuniya is the current presider over the campaign that allegedly has seen more than 1 million people imprisoned, forced to work and live under brutal conditions.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned the Chinese firm SenseTime Group Ltd., which is linked to the development of facial recognition programs that can pinpoint a person's ethnicity and have been used to monitor Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.

Several officials and entities from Myanmar, North Korea and Bangladesh were also sanctioned by the U.S. on December 10.

China Sanctions U.S. Officials
China announced sanctions on December 21, 2021, on four members of the U.S. government's Commission on International Religious Freedom, including Nury Turkel, in retaliation for penalties imposed on Chinese officials over complaints of abuses in the country's northwestern Xinjiang region. Above, Turkel, a leader in the Uyghur-American community, in his office on October 9, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Kevin Wolf/AP Photo

The tit-for-tat sanctions add to spiraling tension over Xinjiang. Washington has banned imports from the region that might be made with forced labor, while activists are calling for a boycott of February's Winter Olympics in Beijing. China has denied accusations of abuses and earlier retaliated by publicizing calls for boycotts of foreign shoe and clothing brands.

China threatened to retaliate after the U.S. Treasury announced the sanctions on the two officials accused of involvement in repression of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Beijing is accused of mass detentions, forced abortions and other abuses.

"The United States should withdraw the so-called sanctions and stop interfering in Xinjiang's affairs and China's internal affairs," Zhao said. "China will make further responses in accordance with the development of the situation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Uyghur Muslims Pray
China announced new sanctions against U.S. government officials on Tuesday in retaliation for the Biden administration’s recently imposed penalties against Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses. Above, Uyghurs and other members of the faithful pray during services at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in far west China's Xinjiang region, during a government-organized visit for foreign journalists on April 19, 2021. Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo