President says he didn’t want to impose additional penalties while he was in the middle of a negotiation
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President Trump held off on imposing tougher sanctions on Chinese officials blamed for a crackdown on China’s Uighur Muslim minority because of concern such measures would have interfered with trade negotiations, he said in an interview published on Sunday.
“Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal. And I made a great deal, $250bn potentially worth of purchases,” Trump told Axios on Friday when asked why he had not enacted Treasury sanctions against communist party officials linked to repression in the Xinjiang region.
“And when you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on – we’ve done a lot. I put tariffs on China, which are far worse than any sanction you can think of,” Trump said.
Axios reported that China hawks in the Trump administration had expressed frustration that the president had not used the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act to sanction Chinese officials. The Act gives the president the power to impose sanctions based on “credible evidence” of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, or “other gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”.
But Trump told Axios no one had mentioned it to him “with regard to China”. Instead he pointed to Uighur Human Rights Policy Act signed last week that called for sanctions over Xinjiang. He insisted, however, he had discretion to decide any application of the measures.
The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps the the province. The State Department has accused China of subjecting Muslims to torture and abuse.
China has denied mistreatment, instead insisting the camps provide vocational training and help fight extremism.
US officials previously told Reuters that since late 2018 they had weighed sanctions against Chinese officials over Xinjiang but refrained because of trade and diplomatic considerations.
Under a Phase 1 trade deal negotiated in 2019 that took effect in February, China agreed to buy at least $200bn in additional US goods and services over two years.
The former US national security adviser, John Bolton, alleged in his new book that Trump sought Chinese president Xi Jinping’s help to win re-election during a 2019 meeting by making agricultural purchases, and Trump also encouraged Xi to go ahead with building camps in Xinjiang.
Trump has denied the accusations.
The United States since last year has placed import restrictions on some Chinese companies and visa bans on unnamed Chinese officials linked to Xinjiang but has not imposed harsher Treasury sanctions.