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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Trump administration has announced it will sanction the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organization operating in Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities, aided by the XPCC, are perpetrating a cultural and demographic genocide against ethnic minorities.

Why it matters: XPCC controls vast swaths of the economy in Xinjiang. Depending on how rigorously the sanctions are enforced, they could hobble the region's economy and blunt China's plans for further economic development of the region.

The Trump administration also said it would sanction two Chinese Communist Party officials affiliated with the XPCC, according to a press release from the Department of Treasury.

  • “As previously stated, 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,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced the sanctions on Twitter, writing, "We call on the world to join us in condemning the CCP’s heinous abuse of the human rights of its own citizens."
  • The sanctions fall under the Global Magnitsky Act, implemented in 2016 to make it easier for the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials and entities complicit in human rights abuses.

Background: Little known outside of China, the XPCC, also known as the "Bingtuan" meaning "military unit" in Chinese, is a powerful, secretive organization that has dominated Xinjiang's economy and politics for decades.

  • It employs almost 12% of Xinjiang's total population, though very few of those employees come from the non-Han ethnic groups that comprise nearly half the region's population.
  • The XPCC is involved in the production of one-third of China's cotton, and in 2014, XPCC-controlled interests comprised 17% of Xinjiang's economy.
  • The Xinjiang government views the XPCC as playing "crucial roles in fighting terrorism and maintaining stability" — a reference to the draconian security state that authorities have forced on Uighurs and other Muslim groups there.

My thought bubble: This is a huge move by the Trump administration, and a major win for human rights advocates who have raised the alarm about the XPCC's role in running the mass internment camps.

  • In addition, enforcing sanctions on such a sprawling and secretive organization is an enormous undertaking. How much these sanctions bite depends a great deal on how many resources the administration is willing to commit to uncovering violations and enforcing them.
  • What to watch: The Chinese government is certain to view this as a major provocation and as a violation of their domestic sovereignty. Retaliatory measures are likely.

Go deeper

Apple lobbied Congress on bill targeting Uighur slave labor in China

A banner hung by protesters in a Hong Kong mall. The protesters demonstrated against alleged workers' rights violations at the factories that produce Apple products, September 2011. Photo: Felix Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Apple paid an outside firm to lobby Congress on legislation targeting American companies working in areas in China that may use forced labor, The Information first reported. It remains unclear whether Apple lobbied against or for the bill.

Why it matters: Apple has faced scrutiny over the years regarding the human impact behind the manufacturing of its popular products.

Oct 26, 2020 - World

China to sanction Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon over Taiwan arms sales

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen during a visit to Penghu Air Force Base. Photo: Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

China plans to impose unspecified sanctions on Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other U.S. companies involved in weapons sales to Taiwan, Reuters reports, citing a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

Why it matters: The Trump administration last week notified Congress of an additional $1.8 billion in proposed arms sales to Taiwan. China's recent military exercises and the buildup of forces along its southeastern coast have renewed fears of an invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway province that must be brought under its control.

Updated 25 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.