The US on Saturday imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on three senior Chinese officials, including the regional boss of the ruling communist party, for alleged human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in the restive Muslim-majority Xinjiang province.

China is accused of mass detentions, religious persecution and forced sterilisation of Uyghurs and others in the resource-rich northwestern province.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated the three senior officials named were Chen Quanguo, the communist party secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and a member of the powerful Politburo; Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang political and legal committee; and Wang Mingshan, party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau.

Chen is the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to be hit by US sanctions. He is said to be the architect of China”s harsh policies against minorities, and was previously in charge in Tibet.

Former security official in Xinjiang, Huo Liujun has also been named in the list.

Pompeo said, “The United States is taking action today against the horrific and systematic abuses in Xinjiang and calls on all nations who share our concerns about the CCP’s attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms to join us in condemning this behaviour”.

Earlier this week, Pompeo announced visa restrictions for some Chinese officials under the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.

Pompeo further said the US will continue to work to advance the sustainable economic development, environmental conservation, and humanitarian conditions of Tibetan communities within China and abroad.

Last month, the United States had said that it was restricting visas for a number of Chinese officials, accusing them of infringing on the autonomy of Hong Kong.

The Secretary of State said the United States would restrict visas for unspecified current and former officials of the Chinese Communist Party “who were responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedoms.”

Pompeo’s action came a day after the US Senate approved a bill that would lay out economic sanctions against Chinese officials and Hong Kong police as well as banks that do transactions with them.

On May 22, China proposed a national security law for Hong Kong in response to last year’s violent pro-democracy protests that plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

In June, Pompeo had described China’s announcement to tighten its control over Hong Kong as “unilateral, arbitrary and disastrous.”