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US-China Tensions Simmer Over Latest Sanctions

Beijing vows to respond to sanctions announced on Friday, while Blinken has begun a tour of Southeast Asia nations to shore up ties with Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur

The flags of the United States and China fly from a lamppost in Boston
China's embassy in Washington said Beijing has worked to implement the Phase 1 agreement "despite the impact of Covid-19, global recession and supply chain disruptions". Photo: Reuters


China has denounced the latest US sanctions imposed against dozens of people and entities for human rights ‘abuses’, as well as individuals in North Korea, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Canada and the United Kingdom joined the United States in imposing sanctions related to human rights abuses in Myanmar, while Washington also imposed the first new sanctions on North Korea under President Joe Biden’s administration and targeted Myanmar military entities.

The moves marked Human Rights Day last Friday and were timed to coincide with Biden’s Democracy Summit.

China’s embassy in Washington denounced the US move as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs”. A spokesman urged Washington to rescind the decision.

“If the US acts recklessly, China will take effective measures to strike back resolutely,” Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing on Monday.

The North Korean mission at the United Nations and the Washington embassies of Myanmar and Bangladesh did not respond to requests for comment.


Facial Recognition Systems

The Treasury also added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime to a list of “Chinese military-industrial complex companies,” accusing it of having developed facial recognition programmes that can determine a target’s ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs.

That resulted in the company suspending an initial public offering (IPO) that had hoped to raise $767 million in  Hong Kong.

SenseTime said it “strongly opposed” the accusations, which it claimed were unfounded.

UN experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China’s far-west region of Xinjiang.


Myanmar, North Korea

The Treasury also imposed sanctions on two Myanmar military entities and an organisation that provides reserves for the military. The Directorate of Defense Industries, one of the entities targeted, makes weapons for the military and police that have been used in a brutal crackdown on opponents of the military’s February 1 coup.

It also targeted four regional chief ministers, including Myo Swe Win, who heads the junta’s administration in the Bago region where the Treasury said at least 82 people were killed in a single day in April.

Canada, meanwhile, imposed sanctions against four entities affiliated with the Myanmar military government, while the United Kingdom imposed fresh sanctions against the military.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military overthrew leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government on February 1, triggering daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority insurgents.

Junta forces seeking to crush opposition have killed more than 1,300 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.

The Treasury also blacklisted North Korea’s Central Public Prosecutors Office, along with the former minister of social security and recently assigned Minister of People’s Armed Forces Ri Yong Gil.

The US State Department on Friday also barred 12 people from traveling to the United States, including officials in China, Belarus and Sri Lanka.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets officials after his arrival in Jakarta on Monday December 13. Pool photo via Reuters.


Blinken in Jakarta

The news comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Jakarta on Monday for the first leg of a three-country tour to shore up ties with Southeast Asian nations. He is due to meet leaders in Malaysia and Thailand in the second half of this week.

Tensions are also high in Europe, with EU leaders discussing possible sanctions on Russia, if it invades Ukraine.



• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard






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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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