WASHINGTON — The United States placed sanctions on top Chinese officials on Monday, as part of a multinational effort to punish Beijing for human rights abuses against the largely Muslim Uighur minority group, which American officials have called a genocide.
The penalties — in coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada — come days after the Biden administration’s heated encounter with Chinese officials in Alaska, and will most likely widen tensions between Washington and Beijing.
“Amid growing international condemnation, the P.R.C. continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in its western Xinjiang region, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement on Monday, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“The United States reiterates its calls on the P.R.C. to bring an end to the repression of Uighurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities,” he added.
The United States imposed penalties on Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, for their roles in detaining and severely abusing Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to use economic penalties to punish officials of other nations for human rights violations. The action will freeze any assets these officials hold in the United States.
The U.S. move came hours after the European Union, United Kingdom and Canada levied their own sanctions against Chinese officials and entities for human rights violations in Xinjiang. The European Union targeted four Chinese officials, along with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The United Kingdom did the same. Canada did not release the names of its targets.
In response to the European Union action on Monday, Chinese officials imposed sanctions on 10 Europeans, including members of the European Parliament.
“This move, based on nothing but lies and disinformation, disregards and distorts facts,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement condemning the European Union action, adding that the effort “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “severely undermines China-E.U. relations.”
Mr. Blinken said the joint action is an effort on the part of the United States to work “multilaterally to advance respect for human rights.” A joint statement released by the top diplomats representing the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, among others, demanded that Beijing “end its repressive practices against Uighur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbitrarily detained.”
China’s crackdown on Uighurs has included forced sterilizations and sending hundreds of thousands of people — if not a million or more — to indoctrination camps intended to instill loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and break down adherence to Islam.
In a separate action on Monday, the United States announced sanctions in coordination with the European Union that named military officials and other entities in Myanmar for their violent repression of democratic protests.
The U.S. action against Beijing seems in line with the diplomatic vision set forth by Mr. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, in their first face-to-face meeting with Chinese officials in Alaska last week. Mr. Sullivan said the United States remained “cleareyed” about the challenges that lay ahead for the world’s two largest economic and technological powers.
The penalties also come on the heels of the Biden administration’s decision to place sanctions on 24 Chinese officials for undermining democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, and is in a similar vein to the Trump administration’s strategy of using sanctions as a means to punish Chinese officials for human rights abuses.
Omer Kanat, the executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, praised the coordinated effort by many nations to penalize Chinese officials.
“Unprecedented cooperation between governments like this is how genocide will be brought to an end,” Mr. Kanat said in a statement on Monday. “This is what Uighurs have been asking for — the dam has broken and the response has finally begun.”
Ana Swanson contributed reporting.