The United States has announced visa restrictions against Chinese government and Communist Party officials over human rights violations in the Xinjiang region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a series of tweets said that he is announcing visa restrictions on the Chinese government and Communist Party officials who are believed to be responsible for the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs, or other members of Muslim minority groups in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

He further said that the Chinese government has instituted a highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

In another tweet, Pompeo said that China has “forcibly detained over one million Muslims in a brutal, systematic campaign to erase religion and culture in Xinjiang”.

The US also called upon Beijing to end its “draconian” surveillance and repression, release all those arbitrarily detained, and cease efforts to coerce members of Chinese Muslim minority groups residing abroad to return to China to face an uncertain fate.

Meanwhile, the State Department said it could not specify which officials were affected due to US confidentiality laws. But lawmakers have specifically asked for action against Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief for Xinjiang.

The visa step came hours after China issued a protest over action by the US Commerce Department.

It blacklisted 28 Chinese entities including video surveillance firm Hikvision and artificial intelligence companies Megvii Technology and SenseTime over their involvement in Xinjiang.

Rights groups say more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims are being held in a vast network of camps in Xinjiang aimed at homogenizing the population to reflect China’s majority Han culture.

Witnesses say that China has sought to force Uighurs to drop core practices of Islam such as fasting during Ramadan and abstaining from alcohol and pork.

China, after initially denying the camps, describes them as vocational schools aimed at dampening the allure of Islamist extremism and violence.

Authorities have cracked down especially hard since 2009 when nearly 200 people died in riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, which has seen an influx of Han Chinese.

The violence was sparked by news of a factory brawl in southern China in which two Uighur migrant workers were killed.

Pompeo has previously called China’s treatment of Uighurs one of the “worst stains on the world” and likened the camps to actions by Nazi Germany.

But few Muslim leaders have spoken out against a rising China with the exception of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which has linguistic and cultural connections with the Uighurs.

Rights advocates also say that Trump has been inconsistent in exercising pressure over human rights, with the tycoon president warmly embracing authoritarian leaders of allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The actions on Xinjiang come as a trade war shows no signs of abating between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods.

At the United Nations last month, Trump also warned China that the United States was watching Hong Kong, where months of swelling protests have demanded that Beijing respect the city’s semi-autonomous status.

China has been accused in the UNHRC of widespread harvesting of human organs from “living” people of the persecuted Uighur and Falun Gong groups, and that Beijing’s involvement in crimes against humanity has been “proved beyond reasonable doubt”.

Earlier in August, in an embarrassing moment for China and Pakistan, the UN meet on Safety of Religious Minorities expressed concern over the discrimination of religious minorities by the two nations.

The US expressed concern about the Chinese government escalating widespread and undue restrictions on religious freedom in China.

Washington further urged the Chinese government to respect the human rights and fundamental freedom of everyone in the country.

(With AFP inputs)