Explainer: Chinese officials sanctioned for atrocities in Xinjiang

Global Magnitsky Sanctions for religious freedom and other human rights abuses

July 10, 2020

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced the United States government would apply Global Magnitsky Sanctions to top-ranking Chinese officials and a Chinese government entity for the human rights abuses and religious freedom violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against the Uyghur Muslim people in the Xinjiang province of China. This is a significant development in the effort to counter China morally, as Russell Moore and the ERLC called for last fall.

How did we get here?

The CCP routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Their decades of abuse includes controlling how many children a family can legally welcome into their home, using extreme forms of technological surveillance to track the activity of people in their country, and seeking to control the speech of their citizens by snuffing out the free exercise of religion. In recent weeks, China’s National People’s Congress passed national security legislation that poisons the “one country, two systems” structure that governed Hong Kong’s relations with the Chinese government, thus crushing the freedom of this unique island-city. China’s boundless ambition for power leads to countless atrocities. 

Since April 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uyghur Muslims and placed them into what it describes as re-education camps. In these internment camps, Uyghurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and forcibly “re-educated” to the Communist Party’s ideological standard of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. Their cultural heritage and practices are being erased as they are subjected to psychological and physical persecution. Families of those in internment camps do not know where their loved ones are, or even if they are still alive, as illustrated in this haunting story from The Daily podcast by The New York Times.

Human rights and religious freedom advocates are seeking to counter the CCP morally, because of the increasing oppression and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, and their own citizens.

Who was sanctioned?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned one Chinese government entity and four current or former government officials in connection with serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. These designations include Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang. According to the Treasury Department:

Chen Quanguo was appointed in 2016, following Chen’s notorious history of intensifying security operations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to tighten control over the Tibetan ethnic minorities. While Chen was already known for his ability to control “ethnic unrest,” when he got to Xinjiang, he had a deputy who understood the Xinjiang region, 

Following his arrival to the region, Chen began implementing a comprehensive surveillance, detention, and indoctrination program in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities through the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB). 

As a part of Chen’s plans, the large-scale construction of mass detention camps, labelled “training centers,” greatly escalated in 2017, and as the Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee.

Also sanctioned are Zhu Hailun, a former Deputy Party Secretary of Xinjiang, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), and the current Director and Communist Party Secretary of the XPSB, Wang Mingshan, and Huo Liujun, the former Party Secretary of the XPSB. The Treasury Department stated that the “entity and officials are being designated for their connection to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

What are Global Magnitsky Sanctions?

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorized the executive branch to impose visa bans and blocking sanctions against any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” In 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption” that significantly broadens the scope of the Global Magnitsky Act, by authorizing sanctions targeting a broader range of persons associated with serious human rights abuse.

Global Magnitsky sanctions are a powerful tool to promote human rights abroad. By allowing the U.S. to apply targeted sanctions, these sanctions can pressure foriegn government leaders and entities to change their behavior. The United Kingdom passed its own version of the Global Magnitsky Act, allowing further pressure on human rights abusers.

Why does this matter?

Countering China morally must be a part of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China. The announcement of sanctions due to human rights violations will certainly cause the CCP embarrassment as Beijing officials were already facing increasing global pressure for their slowness and lack of transparency with the outbreak of COVID-19. The communist officials are in an ongoing global public relations campaign attempting to salvage its image after public criticism for their response to the virus. 

The ERLC has urged the Trump Administration to include these human rights and religious freedom violations as top priorities in its foreign policy strategy. Sanctions leveled against these communist officials are critical to holding the CCP accountable for their egregious persecution.

In an opinion piece last fall at the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Moore, highlighted how “China is imposing a reign of terror on religious minorities,” and called for the U.S. to confront China morally.

“We will continue to debate how best to counter China economically and militarily. Yet surely Americans, the heirs of Jefferson, Madison, Truman and Reagan, can agree that we must begin the long and good work of confronting China morally. The persecuted people there do not bear the image of the Chinese Communist Party membership card, nor do they bear the image of a barcode for international commerce. They bear the image of a Creator above the reach of any state, no matter that it pretends to be a god.

Render unto China that which is China’s, but its people’s souls aren’t part of that deal.”

What Happens Next? 

The new sanctions are a noteworthy step in the right direction as they place needed pressure on the Chinese government for their persecution of Uyghurs. The U.S. should continue prioritizing religious freedom abroad. In this direction, last month, President Trump signed a new executive order promoting religious freedoms abroad through increased funding.

The ERLC will continue to advance human rights rooted in the image of God and religious freedom for persecuted people in China, and encourage our government officials to hold China accountable to recognize human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

To learn more see these ERLC resources: