By Joshua Lipes
The U.S. on Friday imposed new visa sanctions on Chinese officials it said are “engaged in coercive influence activities” to overcome opposition to Beijing’s political goals, including policies that have led to rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) coordinates influence and outreach efforts both overseas and among non-party groups and communities through its United Front Work Department, which he said spreads “propaganda and coerces and bullies those who would oppose Beijing’s policies.”
“The United Front frequently intimidates members of academia, businesses, civil society groups, and Chinese diaspora communities, including members of ethnic and religious minority communities who speak out against horrific human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere in China,” Pompeo said.
“Its coercive tactics target individuals viewed as working against CCP interests. These tactics include the release of personal details (“doxing”) of their targets and even their family members online as a means of political intimidation.”
Pompeo said the U.S. will impose visa restrictions on Chinese and CCP officials, or individuals active in United Front activities, who have used violence or threats, theft and doxing, espionage, sabotage, or interference in domestic political affairs, academia, personal privacy, or business activity.
“These malign activities are intended to co-opt and coerce sub-national leaders, overseas Chinese communities, academia, and other civil society groups both in the United States and other countries in furtherance of the CCP’s authoritarian narratives and policy preferences,” he said.
“I will continue to implement such visa restrictions to make clear that those responsible for actions that contravene the rules-based international order are not welcome in the United States.”
Transforming the international order
Earlier this week, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) said in its annual report that “Beijing seeks to use its growing power to transform the international order, ultimately legitimizing its repressive governance system; expanding its economic, security, and political interests and restoring China to what it views as its rightful place in the world.”
Beijing’s takeover this year of Hong Kong under a draconian national security law, silencing of criticism and dissent at home, and abusive campaigns of cultural assimilation against Tibetans, ethnic Mongolians, and Uyghurs living under its rule have also caught the world’s attention, according to the report.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed back hard at China in recent months, implementing visa restrictions and other measures in October against top officials in Hong Kong’s government and police deemed responsible for curtailing the city’s freedoms, and has warned of sanctions for international banks and other institutions found doing business with them.
And in July, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a key paramilitary group in Xinjiang and two of its current and former officials deemed responsible for rights violations against Uyghurs, up to 1.8 million of whom are believed to have been held under harsh conditions in a vast network of political internment and reeducation camps in the region. The sanctions included regional party secretary Chen Quanguo—marking the first time Washington targeted a member of China’s powerful Politburo.
That same month, Pompeo announced U.S. visa restrictions on selected Chinese officials deemed responsible for policies restricting access for foreigners to Tibetan areas of China, pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act signed into law by Trump in December 2018.
The law also requires the State Department to provide to the Congress each year a list of U.S. citizens denied entry into Tibet.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibet, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting them to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.