China has imposed sanctions on a group of Republican lawmakers in the US in retaliation for measures announced by Washington last week over alleged human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing would place Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, two influential Republicans who have urged the Trump administration to take a tougher stance on China, under sanction.
Beijing also hit Sam Brownback, the state department official for religious freedom, and Chris Smith, a Republican member of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, which monitors human rights.
Hua Chunying, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said the sanctions would take effect on Monday, but did not provide any details.
“The Communist Party of #China has banned me from entering the country. I guess they don’t like me?” Mr Rubio, head of the Senate intelligence panel, tweeted about the move. “I guess they don’t like me”.
The Chinese move marks the latest escalation in tension between Beijing and Washington in recent months. The two countries have sparred over everything from trade and economics to espionage and human rights.
Washington last week sanctioned several senior Chinese Communist party officials over their involvement in the detention of more than 1m Muslim Uighurs in re-education camps in Xinjiang, the north-west Chinese province.
Mr Trump on Friday said Sino-US ties were “severely damaged” in remarks that came after Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said relations were the worst since diplomatic relations were established four decades ago.
While the US has taken an increasingly tough stance on a range of issues, including pressing other countries not to use Huawei in 5G telecoms networks, it has upped the pressure over human rights in recent months. In addition to castigating China over the detention camps in Xinjiang, the US has slammed Beijing for imposing a national security law on Hong Kong.
In October, the US blacklisted Chinese entities involved in the surveillance or repression of Uighurs, preventing American companies from selling them high-tech equipment.
On Friday, the Trump administration issued a rule requiring companies that do business with the US government to prove that they had no commercial ties with several Chinese companies, including Huawei and Hikvision, a maker of surveillance cameras used in the detention camps in Xinjiang.
But the latest US sanctions also come weeks after John Bolton, the former national security adviser, claimed in a memoir that Mr Trump had given Chinese president Xi Jinping the green light to continue mass detentions.
Last week, the US Treasury said the Chinese officials under sanction included Chen Quanguo, the Communist party secretary of Xinjiang, and Zhu Hailun, who helped oversee policy in the province.
The sanctions also target Wang Mingshan, head of the Xinjiang public security bureau, and Huo Liujun, a former head of the bureau.
China warned at the time that it would impose reciprocal sanctions on US entities and individuals who engaged in “vile acts” related to Xinjiang.
Human rights groups say more than 1m Muslim and other ethnic minorities have been arbitrarily detained in camps over the past three years. China has denied many of the claims but has also said the measures it has taken in the area are meant to protect the country against Islamic extremism.
Reporters travelling to Xinjiang have been routinely denied freedom of movement in the region.
While Mr Rubio and Mr Cruz have urged the Trump administration to take an even tougher stance on China, Mr Brownback has been very vocal, along with secretary of state Mike Pompeo, in blasting China over the detentions.
Many China experts in the US expect relations between the countries will continue to sour as Mr Trump campaigns for re-election. In recent months, he has repeatedly blamed China for the global spread of coronavirus, particularly as his own handling of the pandemic has been criticised.