US diplomats may soon be barred from entering Xinjiang, the far north-western Chinese region where more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to be detained in internment camps.
Hu Xijin, editor of the state-run Global Times, said Beijing was considering banning all US diplomatic passport holders from entering Xinjiang in retaliation for US legislation that would punish Chinese officials for human rights abuses.
Hu, who did not cite where his information came from, said China was also considering imposing visa restrictions on US officials and lawmakers for their “odious performance on Xinjiang issue”.
The leak of a cache of classified government documents seen by the Guardian, which details the use of detention camps in Xinjiang, has put more pressure on Beijing. US lawmakers are preparing a bill, passed by the Senate in September, that would put sanctions on Chinese officials and bar the export of US goods and services to government entities in Xinjiang.
Recent US criticisms of Chinese policies in Xinjiang as well as Hong Kong, where the local government has repeatedly tried to put down anti-government protests, have exacerbated already worsening ties. The two sides are attempting to negotiate an end to a trade war that has lasted more than a year.
China has promised firm “countermeasures” in response to the US passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which threatens to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
On Monday, China barred US military ships from visiting Hong Kong and said it would place sanctions on several US human rights organisations that Beijing said had “behaved badly” including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and the International Republican Institute.
“They shoulder some responsibility for the chaos in Hong Kong and they should be sanctioned and pay the price,” said Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the ministry of foreign affairs, at a regular press briefing.
The Global Times said in an editorial on Tuesday that those measures, seen by analysts as mostly symbolic, were just the beginning.
“The measures announced on Monday were only the lightest. China has so far been restrained, but that doesn’t mean that Beijing will not when necessary fight back hard against America’s increasingly worse provocations,” it said.