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Photo: Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images

The Treasury Department announced Thursday that the U.S. has sanctioned four Chinese Communist Party officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Why it matters: The sanctions designations, pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Act passed by Congress in 2016, mark a significant escalation in the Trump administration's response to the Chinese government's detainment of over 1 million Uighurs in internment camps.

  • Rights groups and U.S. officials have long called for Global Magnitsky Act sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the repression in Xinjiang, but the administration repeatedly chose to prioritize trade negotiations over punishing China for policies now widely recognized to be a form of genocide.
  • “This is the highest level sanction that’s ever been designated in China," said a senior administration official in a press call. "We’re upholding the intent of American law, as well as executive orders that President Trump has signed. And we’re standing up for values that go back to the founding of our own republic."

The officials sanctioned by Treasury include:

  • Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region's CCP secretary Chen Quanguo
  • Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region's former deputy CCP secretary Zhu Hailun
  • Xinjiang Public Security Bureau director and CCP secretary Wang Mingshan
  • Xinjiang Public Security Bureau former CCP secretary Huo Liujun

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced he would impose visa restrictions on Chen Quanguo, Zhu Hailun and Wang Mingshan that would ban them and their immediate family members from entering the U.S.

Context: Chen Quanguo is a member of the Politburo, the CCP body that decides policy for the entire country.

  • Zhu Hailun was the party secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Affairs Committee, the Chinese Communist Party body tasked with building and running the concentration camps. Classified documents detailing his role in the camps were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative journalists last year.
  • The Xinjiang Public Security Bureau has contracted with numerous major Chinese companies to build the camps and the mass surveillance regime now blanketing Xinjiang. Some of those companies include HikVision and SenseTime, which have already been included on a U.S. export blacklist.
  • BGI, one of the largest genomics companies in the world, has also worked closely with Xinjiang public security officials on genetic forensics.

What they're saying:

  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin: '"The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world."
  • Pompeo: "The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeted Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith."

Go deeper: China is engaged in campaign of forced birth control against Uighurs

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove Megvii from the list of companies known to have contracted with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

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