China on Monday imposed visa restrictions on some top U.S. officials and politicians in the latest tit-for-tat response to America’s move to sanction several Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses targeting ethnic minority groups in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media in Beijing that the behaviour of the U.S. officials and politicians and visa ban on some Chinese officials from Uyghur Muslim dominated Xinjiang province “severely damaged China-U.S. relations,” and should be condemned.

U.S., China trade visa curbs over Tibet

Hua made the comments in response to the U.S. sanctions and visa restrictions on three senior officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party from Xinjiang for alleged human rights abuses targeting Muslim Uyghurs.

China has decided to impose sanctions starting from Monday against U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, Congressman Chris Smit and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The CECC is headed by Mr. Rubio, a vocal critic of China.

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Announcing the ban on U.S. officials, Hua reiterated Xinjiang is entirely the internal affair of China, and the U.S. has no right to interfere. The Chinese government’s determination to protect its sovereignty and crackdown against terrorism, separatism and extreme religious forces is unshakeable. Hua said China would take further measures based on the situation.

This is the first-time China has banned top U.S. politicians in its retaliation to U.S. sanctions and visa bans on Chinese officials from Xinjiang, Tibet and over the new national security law in Hong Kong.

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Beijing’s move comes days after the U.S. on Thursday slapped sanctions on some Chinese officials in-charge of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region who were believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uygurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang.

The three officials banned by the U.S. are Chen Quanguo, CCP Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region; Zhu Hailun, Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee; and Wang Mingshan, the current Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

China has been saying it would retaliate with similar bans on U.S. officials with egregious behaviours.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while announcing sanctions on Chinese officials in Xinjiang on Thursday said “the United States is taking action against the horrific and systematic abuses in Xinjiang and calls on all nations who share our concerns about the CCP’s attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms to join us in condemning this behaviour.

In recent years, China has faced severe criticism from western countries over persistent reports of mass detention of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

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