Oct 27, 2022 - World

Exclusive: China denounces "despicable" bill to sanction Xi in angry email

Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) provoked an unusually direct rebuke from the Chinese government this week by proposing sanctions on President Xi Jinping for Beijing's human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Axios has learned.

Driving the news: The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., sent a furious, 800-word email dated Monday in response to what it called an "arrogant and despicable" bill. 

Why it matters: The email, sent to Hawley's office by a counselor at the embassy, underscores China's sensitivity over sanctions threats from the U.S. — and foreshadows new tensions if Republicans regain control of Congress in next month's midterm elections.

Between the lines: As Xi assumes a third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Chinese diplomats have been making public displays of defending Xi against criticism.

Details: The email reviewed by Axios accuses Hawley, who last week introduced the bill to sanction Xi and other CCP officials, of gross interference in China’s internal affairs.

  • It takes particular umbrage at the timing: "Senator Hawley is trying to smear the 20th CPC National Congress and the leadership of the CPC, to divide the relationship between the CPC and the Chinese people, and even dare to claim to ‘sanction’ China's top leadership," Counselor Li Xiang wrote, adding that such efforts were "pure wishful thinking and will get nowhere."
  • "The Chinese side urges Senator Hawley to abandon the Cold-War zero-sum mentality and ideological prejudice against China, look at CPC and Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy correctly, stop the advancement of this bill, stop any attack and smear against CPC and Chinese leadership, stop any action to undermine China’s sovereignty and security, and stop moving even further down the wrong and dangerous path," Li wrote.

Our thought bubble: The focus on Xi himself was likely the trigger for this response, notes Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. There’s a steady flow of bills targeting China being proposed on the Hill, but they don’t all spark angry letters from the embassy.

The big picture: Hawley’s bill bolsters his "tough on China" credentials, but there’s no indication it will gain traction. The U.S. hardly ever sanctions sitting world leaders, and blacklisting the leader of America’s largest trading partner would be an unprecedented step.

  • The Chinese embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Zoom in: In the email, the embassy denounced the accusation that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang as an "out-and-out lie," contending that strong measures had been required to counter "terrorism" and “separatism” in Xinjiang. People there are now enjoying rapidly rising living standards and “freedom of religious beliefs and religious harmony," Li claimed.

Reality check: A UN report released in August found "serious human rights violations" against the mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, up to a million of whom have been forced into re-education camps. Human rights groups say Beijing has been attempting to systematically erase the Uyghur identity and way of life.

  • The embassy email dismissed the UN’s "so-called" assessment as "illegal, null and void."
  • The embassy also complained that the Biden administration had "continued the wrong policy towards China adopted by the previous administration." The White House did not provide comment.

Read the email.

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