European Union agrees China sanctions over Xinjiang abuses; first in three decades

Grant Boone
March 22, 2021

Diplomats said the fresh sanctions on Russian Federation will target individuals behind abuses in the country's Chechnya region, which is ruled with an iron-fist by Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov.

The statement said mounting evidence shows the Chinese state is responsible for arbitrarily imprisoning more than one million people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, and for subjecting them to "political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilization". Officials deny all charges of human rights abuses in the northwestern region.

Concerns about China will be on the agenda at a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation foreign ministers Tuesday and Wednesday, Philip Reeker, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters ahead of Blinken's visit.

"We will continue to work closely with our global partners to pursue accountability and transparency".

While mainly symbolic, the European Union sanctions mark a significant hardening in the bloc's policy towards China, which Brussels long regarded as a benign trading partner but now views as a systematic abuser of basic rights and freedoms. They also ban them from travelling to Canada and Canadian citizens and businesses from providing them with financial services.

Those targeted by the EU, Canada and Britain included Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The former head of China's Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun, was also targeted.

Wang Junzheng, secretary of the party committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

The EU imposed unilateral sanctions on relevant Chinese individuals and entity on March 22, citing the so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang.

The European sanctions over Xinjiang are the bloc's first against China since an arms embargo imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

A map showing the Xinjiang region

China responded immediately to the EU's move, slapping sanctions on 10 European individuals and four institutions that it said had damaged China´s interests and 'maliciously spread lies and disinformation'.

"That is why we will not be able to avoid imposing sanctions".

He also said 'a united transatlantic response sends a strong signal to those who violate or abuse worldwide human rights, and we will take further actions in coordination with likeminded partners'.

The U.S., the U.K. and Canada "are united in our deep and ongoing concern regarding China's human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang", the three countries' foreign ministers said in a statement.

China hit back, saying it "firmly opposes and strongly condemns" the European Union sanctions, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Liberal cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, abstained from that vote.

The sanctions come after weeks of pressure in Canada for the government to take stronger action in response to the alleged atrocities in China, which that regime denies are taking place.

NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said the move is an "important step" to hold China accountable.

"By acting with our partners, 30 of us in total, we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese government, that the global community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systemic violations of basic human rights, and that we will act, in concert, to hold those responsible to account", British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told parliament on Monday.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said today's sanctions fall short of meeting Canada's obligations under worldwide law.

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