The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CPC), headed by President Xi Jinping, has abruptly replaced its chief in the volatile Xinjiang province, Chen Quanguo, who was sanctioned by the US over alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the region.
Chen no longer serves as Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional Committee of the CPC, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.
Ma Xingrui, who was the governor of Guangdong province, has been appointed as new party chief for Xinjiang.
The CPC Central Committee has decided to give Chen another appointment, the news agency said in a brief report.
Chen has been accused by the US, the UK and the European Union of widespread human rights abuses against Uyghurs, but he is tipped for a promotion, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on the development.
Last year, the US government had slapped sanctions against Chen and several other Chinese officials in-charge of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, stating they were “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in the unjust detention or abuse of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang”.
The three Chinese officials banned by the US were Chen Quanguo, CCP Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Zhu Hailun, the then Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee and Wang Mingshan, the Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.
They were sanctioned by the former US government led by President Donald Trump – which pursued a tough policy on China; parts of which have been carried forward by his predecessor Joe Biden.
In a tit-for-tat move, China had imposed sanctions against US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), the then US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, US Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Congressman Chris Smit.
The US-China ties are going through a tense phase as the Biden administration has already announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics which is to be held in February next year.
Escalating matters further, Biden on Thursday signed the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act which prohibits American businesses from importing goods from Xinjiang unless they can be proven not to have been made by forced labour.
China has condemned the new US law, saying it violated international laws and interfered in its internal affairs.
China is battling allegations of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in the last few years from the West.
The allegations include incarceration of thousands of Uyghurs in mass detention camps, forced labour in manufacturing units of the resource-rich Xinjiang, forced abortions, and mass indoctrination and other such crimes.
Beijing says its security crackdown in Xinjiang was aimed at the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is affiliated to the Al-Qaida faction operating in Xinjiang. The labour camps have been called regular job training.
“The so-called allegations of ‘forced labour’ and ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang are nothing but vicious lies concocted by anti-China forces,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the media here on Friday, reacting to the new US move on Xinjiang.
“The US side keeps using Xinjiang-related issues to create rumours and make trouble. Essentially it is engaging in political manipulation and economic coercion, and seeking to undermine Xinjiang’s prosperity and stability and contain China’s development under the pretext of human rights,” he said.
The allegations of forced labour have brought hesitancy to leading businesses sourcing raw material and labour from the region.
Earlier in the week, American microchip maker Intel Corp. apologised over a letter urging suppliers to not source products or labour from China’s Xinjiang region.
The letter said Intel Corp. had been “required to ensure” its supply chain did not use labour or source goods from Xinjiang, following restrictions imposed by “multiple governments”.
The tech giant later regretted sending the letter to suppliers after facing tremendous backlash from Beijing and a call for total boycott.
In a statement posted in Chinese on its official handles on media platforms WeChat and Weibo accounts, Intel clarified that its commitment to avoid supply chains from Xinjiang was an expression of compliance with US law, rather than a statement of its position on the issue.
“We apologise for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public. Intel is committed to becoming a trusted technology partner and accelerating joint development with China,” the BBC quoted the firm’s letter as saying.
The Global Times said Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola were among companies reportedly lobbying the US Congress to weaken the forced labour act.