The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced reciprocal sanctions against American and Canadian individuals and entities on Saturday. The restrictions target United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Chairman Gayle Manchin, as well as the organisation's Vice Chair Tony Perkins. Manchin and Perkins spent much of the past year lobbying US Congress to take a tough line on China over the Uyghur issue.
Canadian targets include Conservative Party House of Commons lawmaker Michael Chong and the House of Commons' Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Chong has led the charge in Canada's Parliament to declare China's treatment of Uyghurs a "genocide."
In a press statement, the Foreign Ministry indicated that the measures were taken "in response" to the US and Canada's imposition of "unilateral sanctions on relevant individuals and entit[ies] in Xinjiang on March 22 based on rumours and disinformation."
The sanctions ban the individuals listed from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macao, and prohibit Chinese citizens and institutions from doing business with or having exchanges with those targeted.
"Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt," Beijing warned.
The United States and Canada joined Britain and the European Union in targeting senior Chinese officials and entities accused of involvement in the mass internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang on Monday, with the move coming after Brussels and London imposed their first sanctions against the People's Republic in over three decades last week. Beijing responded by sanctioning nine British nationals and four entities, as well as 10 Europeans, including several members of the European Parliament, and four EU entities.
Both sides are standing firm on their positions. On 17 March, ahead of the imposition of restrictions, Chinese Ambassador to Brussels Zhang Ming urged the EU to "think twice," and warned that "if some insist on confrontation, we will not back down as we have no options other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people in our country."
The Xinjiang dispute centres around Western countries' allegations that as many as one million Muslim Uyghurs have been placed in brutal "re-education camps" to assimilate them into Han Chinese culture. Chinese authorities have repeatedly dismissed these claims, maintaining that the institutions are voluntary vocational centres set up in accordance with UN anti-extremism guidelines, and inviting foreign officials and human rights groups to visit Xinjiang for themselves to find out what's really going on.
Beijing stepped up security in the Xinjiang region in the wake of multiple terrorist incidents by Islamist radicals and separatists, including a 2009 attack which killed nearly 200 people and left some 1,700 wounded, nearly all of them Han Chinese.
The China-US spat is also linked to trade and technology, with the Trump administration unleashing a multi-trillion dollar trade war against Beijing in 2018 after accusing the PRC of a litany of economic crimes, and of attempting to undermine America's information security. The dispute was meant to be resolved with the signing of the Phase One trade deal in January 2020, but neither side has fully committed to the treaty's terms, and Washington has since introduced new sanctions and restrictions. Since coming into office in January, the Biden administration has generally stuck to its predecessor's tough guy approach to China policy.