The EU on Wednesday agreed to a new package of sanctions on four Chinese individuals and one entity, whose names will be made public after formal approval by EU foreign ministers on March 22, as part of a sanctions list aiming to punish several countries over human rights abuses.
Those sanctions are the first European sanctions against Beijing since an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which is still in place today. While the sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes, they are mainly symbolic. Nevertheless, their adoption marks a significant hardening in the EU’s policy towards China.
The Chinese sanctions concern the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang. According to activists and UN human rights experts, at least 1 million Muslims are being detained in camps in the area and, allegedly, being subject to torture, forced labor and non-consensual sterilizations. The U.S., Canada, and Dutch parliament have labeled the situation a “genocide.”
The Chinese mission republished comments on Twitter about the new sanctions made on Tuesday by China’s ambassador Zhang Ming saying that Beijing would not change its policies. Ming also warned that “sanctions based on lies could be interpreted as a deliberate attack on China’s security and development.”
The Chinese mission said on Twitter:
“Sanctions are confrontational. We want dialogue, not confrontation. We ask the EU side to think twice. If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down, as we have no options other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people.”
China has continuously denied the allegations by saying the country is trying to fight religious extremism and its camps provide vocational training. Although Beijing has on numerous occasions invited EU ambassadors to Xinjiang, such visits never took place due to the strict conditions and monitoring set by Chinese authorities.
The EU has also called for the release of jailed ethnic Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life in 2014. He was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize in 2019.
The EU’s full sanctions list of 11 names approved by EU ambassadors also includes officials from Russia, Libya, South Sudan and North Korea.