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US imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over 'repression' of Uighur Muslims

Restrictions come as hundreds of thousands of Uighurs remain detained in camps across Xinjiang province
Ethnic Uighurs take part in a protest march in Brussels asking for the EU to call upon China to respect human rights (AFP/File photo)

The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials believed to be responsible for the detention or abuse of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province, the US State Department said.

"The United States calls on the People’s Republic of China to immediately end its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, release all those arbitrarily detained, and cease efforts to coerce members of Chinese Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday.

The visa restrictions follow Monday's decision by the Commerce Department to add 28 Chinese public security bureaus and companies to a trade blacklist over Beijing's treatment of its Muslim ethnic minorities.

US officials previously said the Trump administration was considering sanctions against officials linked to China's crackdown on Muslims, including some in the upper echelons of China's leadership.

The State Department announcement did not name the officials subject to visa restrictions, but the news of the sanctions sent US stocks down. 

The US restrictions come amid tense trade talks between the Washington and Beijing.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment, Reuters said, but China has consistently denied any mistreatment of Uighurs.

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Those added to the Commerce Department's blacklist on Monday include the Government Public Security Bureau of Xinjiang, 19 subordinate government agencies and eight commercial firms, Reuters said. 

The blacklisted companies also include some of China's leading artificial intelligence firms.

Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned China for its mistreatment of its Muslim minority groups, as hundreds of thousands of Uighurs remain detained in camps across Xinjiang province.

Beijing calls the camps "vocational training schools" and says they have been set up to tackle "religious extremism".