On Tuesday, the United States said it will hold back visas for Chinese officials until Beijing ends its “repression” of Uighurs and other Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang. The announcement comes just a day after imposing commercial restrictions. 

It comes amid a range of conflicts between the United States and China. The move is being considered as one of the most forceful attempts by a foreign power to address that has been called by some rights groups, a historic crisis. 

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter, “China has forcibly detained over one million Muslims in a brutal, systematic campaign to erase religion and culture in Xinjiang.”

“China must end its draconian surveillance and repression, release all those arbitrarily detained and cease its coercion of Chinese Muslims abroad,” he said. Pompeo in a statement said that the State Department will block visas granted to government and ruling Communist Party officials involved in “detention or abuse” of Uighurs, Kazakhs or members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

The order will also affect their family members along with children who may be seeking to study in the United States. However, the State Department said it could not specify which officials were affected due to US confidentiality laws.

But lawmakers have specifically asked for action against Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief for Xinjiang. China has denied any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and expressed dissatisfaction at the move. It also accused the US of using “made-up pretexts for its interference.”

“The counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang are aimed to eradicate the breeding soil of extremism and terrorism,” the Chinese embassy in Washington said on Twitter.

“They are in line with Chinese laws and international practices,and are supported by all 25 million people of various ethnic groups in Xinjiang,” it added. The US move of blocking visas, comes hours after China issued a similar protest over action. 

It blacklisted 28 Chinese entities including video surveillance firm Hikvision and artificial intelligence companies Megvii Technology and SenseTime over their involvement in Xinjiang. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing, “These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

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