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China to sanction US Senators Rubio, Cruz over Xinjiang

[BEIJING] China announced sanctions against US officials including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, in a largely symbolic attempt to retaliate over Washington's moves to punish Beijing for its treatment of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said sanctions against the four officials would begin Monday, without elaborating. Ms Hua listed Rubio of Florida and Cruz of Texas, both Republicans and high-profile critics of China, as targets of the unspecified measures, in addition to Ambassador Sam Brownback, Representative Chris Smith and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

"Xinjiang is China's internal affairs and US has no right to interfere," Ms Hua said at a regular news briefing Monday in Beijing. "We urge the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decisions, stop interfering in China's internal affairs or undermining China's interests. We will make further reactions based on the development of the situation."

The move comes after the US sanctioned a top member of China's ruling Communist Party and three other officials over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in the country's far west. Beijing has repeatedly vowed retaliation over US actions intended to support residents of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, accusing Washington of inappropriately interfering in China's internal affairs.

The individuals sanctioned by the US include Chen Quanguo, a member of the 25-member Politburo who has overseen a crackdown in Xinjiang that the United Nations said had led to the detention of some 1 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups. China disputes the claim, saying it's seeking to prevent extremism and that most people in what it calls education facilities had "graduated."

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The tit-for-tat exchanges appeared calibrated to keep the disputes from further escalating and disrupting other aspects of ties between the world's two largest economies, such as their "phase one" trade deal. The US moves were largely symbolic, since both groups of US and Chinese officials were unlikely to have much financial or legal exposure to each other's countries.

"This is an equivalent action targeting the main people responsible for what happened with sanctioning Chinese officials over Xinjiang," said Bo Zhengyuan, partner at Beijing-based research firm Plenum. "The move gives the US a sense of how China will react when potential sanctions related to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act is announced. Beijing has shown that it will hit back with proportional actions, which is worrisome as the HKAA includes sanctions on entities such as financial institutions."

Both US President Donald Trump and China's Xi Jinping have incentives to try to look tough after their trade war and the subsequent coronavirus outbreak hardened public opinions on both sides of the Pacific. Democrats including Mr Trump's presumptive opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, have pledged support for tougher actions over Beijing's efforts to rein in dissent in Xinjiang and the former British colony of Hong Kong.

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