China puts pressure on shoe and clothing brands, sanctions US and Canadian officials over Xinjiang

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China announced new sanctions against US and Canadian officials in a growing political and economic feud over its policies in the traditionally Muslim region of Xinjiang.

China has strongly rejected accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and has launched calls for boycotts and other punishments against foreign firms including retailer H&M and Nike, along with sanctions against foreign government officials and activists whom it says are spreading false information about its policies toward Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

H&M disappeared from the internet in China as the government raised pressure on shoe and clothing brands and announced sanctions against US and Canadian officials.

Kin Cheung/AP

H&M disappeared from the internet in China as the government raised pressure on shoe and clothing brands and announced sanctions against US and Canadian officials.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said the head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Gayle Manchin, will be barred from visiting mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao, and having any dealings with Chinese financial entities.

The commission’s vice chair, Tony Perkins, was also included on the sanctions list, along with Canadian Member of Parliament Michael Chong and the body’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

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“They must stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form and refrain from going further down the wrong path. Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

China announced sanctions Friday against British officials and H&M products were dropped from Chinese websites including Alibaba and JD.com over their opposition to buying cotton from Xinjiang. That hurts H&M’s ability to reach customers in a country where more than a fifth of shopping is online.

The ruling Communist Party’s Youth League launched attacks on H&M following the European Union’s decision to join the United States, Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials blamed for abuses in Xinjiang.

Shockwaves spread to other brands as dozens of celebrities called off endorsement deals with Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Uniqlo and Lacoste after state media criticised the brands for expressing concern about Xinjiang.

More than 1 million members of the Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been confined to detention camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Authorities there are accused of imposing forced labour and coercive birth control measures.

The Chinese government rejects complaints of abuses and says the camps are for job training to support economic development and combat Islamic radicalism.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the sanctions “baseless” retaliation for US measures against Chinese officials.

“Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and silence those speaking out for human rights and fundamental freedoms only contribute to the growing international scrutiny of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” he said.

“We stand in solidarity with Canada, the UK, the EU, and other partners and allies around the world in calling on the PRC to end the human rights violations and abuses against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang and to release those arbitrarily detained,” Blinken said in a statement.

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