On March 29th, in a new round of sanctions imposed on international experts that have spoken out about the crimes against humanity and genocide of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Chinese government shifted its focus to target the leaders of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Chair Gayle Manchin and Vice Chair Tony Perkins. These sanctions – in an act of retaliation – came about a week after the United Staes, European Union, and Canada leveled coordinated sanctions against Chinese government officials complicit in or responsible for the persecution of Uyghur and other ethno-religious minorities.
Below is the text of China’s sanctions:
“The United States (US) and Canada imposed unilateral sanctions on relevant individuals and entity in Xinjiang on March 22 based on rumors and disinformation. In response, the Chinese side decides to sanction Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Gayle Manchin, Vice Chair of the USCIRF Tony Perkins […] China’s previous sanctions on US individuals who have seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and interests on Xinjiang-related issues remains effective. The Chinese government is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and urges the relevant parties to clearly understand the situation and redress their mistakes. They must stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form and refrain from going further down the wrong path. Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt.”
The newly sanctioned individuals and entities – USCIRF, Chair Manchin, and Vice Chair Perkins – have routinely raised concerns regarding not only the increasingly genocidal persecution of the Uyghurs in China, but also noteworthy religious freedom issues in tens of other countries worldwide. USCIRF releases an annual report every year in which they outline a list of nations they recommend the US State Department designate as Countries of Particular Concern for having “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. USCIRF has recommended China as a Country of Particular Concern in every one of its annual reports, dating back to its first one in the year 2000. USCIRF Commissioner and first ever Uyghur American attorney, Nury Turkel, has made numerous testimonies to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and in March 2021 USCIRF hosted a virtual hearing, “A Religious Minority Enslaved: Addressing the Complicity of US Companies in Uyghur Forced Labor”.
In response to the sanctions imposed on her and her colleague by the Chinese government, USCIRF Chair Manchin revealed she was “flattered to be recognized by Communist China for calling out genocidal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities in the country.” She continued that the sanctions themselves don’t have much of an effect on her, as she didn’t have any plans to travel there in the near or far future. Just last year, when China sanctioned US Senator Marco Rubio for his advocacy on exposing China’s human rights and religious freedom violations, he explained that “I wear the ban from China as a badge of honor. If the totalitarian regime is against me, I must be doing something right.”
In response to the new sanctions on USCIRF and its leaders, current US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, issued a press release stating the following:
“Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and silence those speaking out for human rights fundamental freedoms only contribute to the growing international scrutiny of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.”
USCIRF itself even condemned the sanctions:
“The Chinese government’s baseless sanctions on U.S. and foreign government officials who advocate for human rights and religious freedom in China are an attempt to silence growing international criticism and scrutiny of its genocidal policies against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. This tactic will not work. We will not stop speaking out….”
“The Chinese Communist Party government’s baseless sanctions are tactics of intimidation revealing the communist regime is trying to save face in the international community, which has denounced their brutal and repressive policies toward their own people.”