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U.S. sanctions Chinese official over Uighur rights

The United States on Thursday (July 9) slapped sanctions on the highest ranking Chinese official it's ever targeted over alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

It's a move that will only further ratchet up tensions between China and the U.S.

Washington blacklisted Xinjiang's Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of China's powerful Politburo, and three other officials.

Chen is widely considered the senior official responsible for the security crackdown in Xinjiang, where United Nations experts and activists estimate more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps.

The highly anticipated sanctions followed months of increasing U.S. hostility towards Beijing over China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak and its tightening grip on Hong Kong.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

But China has denied mistreatment of Uighur Muslims and says the camps provide vocational training, and are needed to fight extremism.

The U.S. sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act.

The Act allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators worldwide by freezing any U.S. assets, banning U.S. travel, and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.

Main exile group the World Uyghur Congress welcomed the move and called for the European Union and other countries to follow suit.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who sponsored legislation signed by President Trump in June calling for sanctions over the repression of Uighurs, told Reuters the move was quote "long overdue" and that more steps were needed.

But despite Trump's hardline public remarks about Beijing, former national security adviser John Bolton alleged in his recent book that Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping should go ahead with building the detention camps in Xinjiang -- and also sought Xi's help to win reelection.

Trump said in an interview last month he had held off on tougher sanctions on China over Uighur Muslims' human rights due to concerns that such measures would have interfered in trade negotiations with Beijing.