China sanctions U.S. lawmakers in dispute over Uighur Muslims

BEIJING (Reuters) - China announced “corresponding sanctions” against the United States on Monday after Washington penalized senior Chinese officials over the treatment of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

China’s move comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economic powerhouses have slumped over disagreements on issues including the coronavirus pandemic, trade, Huawei and a sweeping national security law imposed on Hong Kong.

The sanctions targeted Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Representative Chris Smith, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Rubio, Cruz and Smith have all sponsored legislation over human rights issues in China, and such measures have received strong support in the U.S. Congress from members of both parties. Rubio, Cruz and Smith are members of President Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

“The U.S. actions seriously interfere in China’s internal affairs, seriously violate the basic norms of international relations and seriously damage Sino-U.S. relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

“China will make further responses based on how the situation develops.”

Hua did not elaborate.

U.N. experts and activists say at least a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in Xinjiang. China describes them as training centres helping stamp out terrorism and extremism and giving people new skills.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China monitors human rights and the rule of law and submits an annual report to Trump and Congress. Rubio is a co-chairman.

The lawmakers expressed no concern about the sanctions. Rubio made light of them on Twitter, asking, “I guess they don’t like me?”

Cruz, also on Twitter, commented that the Chinese Communist Party was “terrified and lashing out.”

Washington’s measures against Chinese officials, including the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, involve freezing U.S. assets, travel bans and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Alex Richardson, Nick Macfie and Tom Brown