A handful of U.S. congressmen woke up to an angry slap on the wrist from the Chinese government on Monday.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback are now banned from entering China, though the full scope of the new sanctions against them have yet to be revealed.
What prompted the giant authoritarian regime to target these lawmakers? Apparently, their work to address China's many human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, "Xinjiang affairs are China's internal affairs and the U.S. has no right to interfere in them."
These congressmen deserve kudos for their work. The fact that China is singling them out to be targeted means their actions to address China's human rights issues have had an impact. China noticed their efforts and reacted. That is significant, and they should be commended.
Cruz, Rubio, and Smith have all advocated for and co-sponsored legislation to address China's religious freedom and human rights violations.
Rubio and Smith introduced the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which was recently signed into law. It is meant to hold perpetrators of abuses against the Uyghur people, including the systematic use of indoctrination camps, accountable for their actions.
Cruz also joined Rubio to introduce the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would prevent goods produced by forced labor (suspected to be sourced by China's brutal system of "re-education" camps) in Xinjiang from entering the United States. This will be an effective measure, and Congress should seek to pass this as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Brownback is a consistently fearless advocate for religious freedom for all people in China. He has long denounced China's "war on faith," reminding them "it is a war they will not win."
The sanctions against these individuals are likely in retaliation for sanctions the U.S. placed on selected Chinese officials last week for their human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims.
But there's an obvious difference between the sanctions the U.S. and China placed on each other's officials. While China merely targets U.S. officials for interference in China's human rights violations, the U.S. sanctioned Chinese officials based on actual human rights violations.
The sanctioned Chinese officials are directly responsible for developing and enacting the dystopian campaign of repression in Xinjiang. The most high-profile individual targeted is Chen Quanguo. As the Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang, Chen is responsible for building the network of "re-education" camps in which 1-3 million innocent Uyghurs and those other ethnic minorities remain arbitrarily detained. Outside of the camps, facial recognition technology, forced abortions, birth control and sterilizations, and an intense culture fear is used to control the daily lives of Uyghurs.
Chen and the other Chinese officials who were sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, a tool designed to address global human rights violators, deserve to be singled out for their actions. But the Chinese government is not happy about this, so they are lashing out against U.S. politicians.
The reaction of the Chinese government should encourage U.S. leaders to press on as they seek to improve human rights conditions in China. Recent U.S. efforts have struck a nerve, and lawmakers and diplomats should continue to build on that momentum.