China on Wednesday said it will strongly oppose any move by the United States to impose sanctions against its officials and companies in order to punish Beijing for the alleged human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, reported PTI.

“China consistently resolutely opposes the United States using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang at a press briefing in Beijing.

Geng’s comment came a day after State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said the idea of imposing sanctions was being discussed. “We’re deeply troubled by the worsening crackdown, not just on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, other Muslims in that region of China,” said Nauert. “There are credible reports out there that many, many thousands have been detained in detention centers since April 2017, and the numbers are fairly significant from what we can tell so far.”

Nauert acknowledged receiving a letter from the Congress on potential sanctions but refused to confirm any development. “We have a lot of tools at our disposal but I’m not going to get ahead of any potential activity that the US government may take,” she said.

The Chinese government protects the religious freedom of all ethnic groups, said Geng. “If the relevant report is true, we urge the relevant party to respect the facts, abandon prejudices and stop taking actions that may harm the China-US mutual trust and cooperation,” Geng said.

Last month, a group of US lawmakers asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on seven Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo. Chen, who is the Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, is alleged to have led the crackdown against Uyghurs.

The north-western Xinjiang region is home to more than 10 million members of the Uyghur Muslim minority group. Several reports have suggested that the Uyghur community is being discriminated against and about 2 million people have been forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the region.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s final statement called on China to end illegal detentions of the individuals and conduct impartial investigations into claims of racial, ethnic and ethno-religious profiling. The report criticised China’s “broad definition of terrorism and vague references to extremism and unclear definition of separatism”.

The panel said that several “credible reports” suggest that China has made the region a “massive internship camp shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no-rights zone”, in the name of fighting religious extremism.