The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Finally, some consequences for China’s concentration camps

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in China’s Xinjiang province on Sept. 4, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

AT LAST, the Trump administration has placed sanctions on some of the most significant government and business organizations enabling and executing China’s campaign to eradicate the culture and language of more than 1 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang province. The administration says it has also blocked some Chinese officials who are carrying out the repression from gaining visas to the United States. These measures were necessary, overdue and must be sustained as long as China puts the Uighurs and other Muslims in concentration camps.

Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau as well as its subsidiaries and eight companies were sanctioned by the Commerce Department for involvement in “China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance.” The targets included Hikvision and Dahua Technology, global leaders in video surveillance products; voice recognition software maker iFlytek; artificial intelligence firms SenseTime, Yitu Technologies and Megvii Technology; Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co., which specializes in forensic data analysis; and nanotechnology company Yixin Science and Technology, according to Radio Free Asia. The measures will undoubtedly crimp some of these companies involved in facial recognition and artificial intelligence that depend on business relationships and material from the West. The names of those individuals subject to visa bans were not made public but hopefully include Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary for the region who has overseen the effort to coerce the Uighurs and other Muslims into an archipelago of indoctrination camps aimed at eradicating their ethnic traditions and language. Mr. Chen earlier led the effort to crush dissent in Tibet. The technology companies are on the list because China has used Xinjiang as a kind of test bed for massive, intrusive electronic surveillance of the Uighur people.

Do such sanctions work? Judging by the Chinese reaction, they matter. China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, responded tartly that “Xinjiang does not have the so-called human rights issue claimed by the U.S. The accusations by the U.S. side are merely made-up pretexts for its interference.” China has claimed the camps are vocational education facilities, but eyewitnesses have described them as prison-like concrete and barbed-wire gulags with endless loops of propaganda videos and little or no contact with the outside. China has steadfastly rebuffed any criticism from abroad that it is destroying the ethnic fabric of the Uighur people.

For the sanctions to represent real bite, they must now stick. Not long ago, President Trump, in the middle of a trade war with China, rather carelessly told President Xi Jinping that the United States would remain silent about any crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. That was an unfortunate mistake and must not be repeated in Xinjiang. This is not about leverage. China cannot be permitted to wipe out a people’s heritage — to erase it from their memory banks — with impunity.

Read more:

Jonathan Schanzer: Why the United States should sanction the mastermind of China’s crackdown on the Uighurs

The Post’s View: A Uighur professor vanished and may be executed. Yet China expects respect.

Sophie Richardson: Foreign firms operating in Xinjiang need to consider human rights — or risk being complicit

The Post’s View: China’s repressive reach is growing

Carl Gershman: The world knows about Uighurs. There should be a rallying cry to save them.