Against the backdrop of criticism over China policy involving everything from trade to social media diplomacy, the Trump administration via The State Department announced Tuesday the imposition of travel visa bans on Chinese government and Communist officials for what State considers human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang providence.
On a call with reporters, State Department officials noted that the move was part of a broader effort by the administration to prioritize religious freedom.
“Promotion of protection of religious freedom is a major goal” of the administration, one official noted.
Officials also noted the decision was unprecedented and that the U.S. was the first to take action on it. The hope is that other nations will eventually follow suit in condemning the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China, who are prevented from making certain purchases, staying in hotels, or obtaining passports. There are also thought to be more than a million Uighur Muslims detained in Chinese camps, and the rest are surveilled by the state.
The justification for the visa ban, which will prevent Chinese officials or their family members from traveling to the U.S., according to one State Department official was a direct response to the policy of mistreatment on Uighur Muslims on the basis of “preemptive counterterrorism.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has referred to treatment of the Uighur community in China as the “stain of the century,” made a statement Tuesday explaining the decision.
Pompeo is imposing the restrictions on government leaders and Communist Party officials who are found responsible for or complicit in the detention and abuse of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other minority Muslim groups in Xinjiang, according to the State Department. Travel by those officials’ family members will also be restricted.
“The Chinese government has instituted a highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other members of Muslim minority groups,” Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday. “The United States calls on the People’s Republic of China to immediately end its campaign of repression in Xinjiang.”
The travel ban comes a day after the U.S. added 28 Chinese companies to a blacklist over treatment of Uighur Muslims, angering Chinese authorities in the process.
“There is no such thing as these so-called ‘human rights issues’ as claimed by the United States,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
State Department officials said Tuesday they hope the decision will help potential allies, particularly ones located in Muslim-heavy countries in the Middle East, to build a coalition to address the Uighur abuse in China and incentivize them to begin accepting the “scale and scope of the problem.”