China said on Wednesday it wanted to cooperate with US President Joe Biden's new administration, while announcing sanctions against “lying and cheating” outgoing State Secretary Mike Pompeo and 27 other top officials under Donald Trump.
The move was a sign of China's anger, especially at an accusation Pompeo made on his final full day in office that China had committed genocide against its Uighur Muslims, an assessment that Biden's choice to succeed Pompeo, Anthony Blinken, said he shared.
In a striking repudiation of its relationship with Washington under Trump, the Chinese foreign ministry announced the sanctions in a statement that appeared on its website around the time that Biden was taking the presidential oath.
Pompeo and the others had “planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves, gravely interfered in China's internal affairs, undermined China's interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-US relations,” it said.
The other outgoing and former Trump officials sanctioned included trade chief Peter Navarro, National Security Advisers Robert O'Brien and John Bolton, Health Secretary Alex Azar, UN ambassador Kelly Craft and former top Trump aide Steve Bannon.
The 28 ex-officials and immediate family members would be banned from entering mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao, and companies and institutions associated with them restricted from doing business with China.
Brian O'Toole, a sanctions expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, saw China's move as retaliatory and “political statements more than anything else”.
“I suspect they will default to more of a case-by-case application than a well-defined restriction,” he said.
'Unproductive and cynical'
A spokeswoman for President Joe Biden's National Security Council said China's move to sanction former Trump administration officials was “unproductive and cynical”, urging Americans from both parties to condemn the action.
“Imposing these sanctions on Inauguration Day is seemingly an attempt to play to partisan divides,” Biden's National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement to Reuters.
“Americans of both parties should criticise this unproductive and cynical move. President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to out-compete China,” Horne said.
'Another bold-faced lie'
China has imposed sanctions on US lawmakers in the past year, but targeting former and outgoing US officials was an unusual expression of disdain.
Pompeo, who unleashed a barrage of measures against China in his final weeks in office, declared on Tuesday that China had committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighur Muslims. Blinken said on Tuesday he agreed with the assessment.
“The forcing of men, women and children into concentration camps; trying to, in effect, re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” Blinken said.
China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in its Xinjiang region, where a United Nations panel has said at least one million Uighurs and other Muslims had been detained in camps.
Responding to the Xinjiang allegations, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a media briefing: “Pompeo has made so many lies in recent years, and this is just another bold-faced lie.”
“This US politician is notorious for lying and cheating, is making himself a laughing stock and a clown.”
Hua said China hoped “the new administration will work together with China in the spirit of mutual respect, properly handle differences and conduct more win-win cooperation in more sectors”.
“We hope the new US administration can have their own reasonable and cool-minded judgment on Xinjiang issues, among other issues.”