EU hits China with sanctions over Uyghur ‘genocide’

Brussels: As China continues to impose severe crackdowns on the Uyghur and other minority communities, the European Union has confirmed its first sanctions on Chinese officials since 1989, targeting four officials and one entity.

According to South China Morning Post, The sanctions are in response to alleged human rights abuses in the far western region of Xinjiang, where China is accused of detaining a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in reeducation camps. Beijing has repeatedly claimed that the camps are vocational training centres and part of efforts to combat terrorism.

The four officials are Zhu Hailun, a former secretary of Xinjiang’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee; Wang Junzheng, Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and deputy secretary of Xinjiang’s party committee; Wang Mingshan, a member of the party standing committee in Xinjiang; and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

The entity sanctioned is the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which the EU said: “is responsible for serious human rights violations in China, in particular, large-scale arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uygurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities.” 

“The sanctions signal the EU’s strong determination to stand up for human rights and to take tangible action against those responsible for violations and abuses. The violations targeted today include the large-scale arbitrary detentions of, in particular, Uyghurs in Xinjiang in China, repression in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Libya, torture and repression against LGBTI persons and political opponents in Chechnya in Russia, and torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings in South Sudan and Eritrea,” the bloc said in a release.

South China Morning Post reported that it is the first time the EU has used its new human rights sanctioning regime on China. The last European sanctions aimed at China were an arms embargo after the violent crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The sanctions were adopted by the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday and then signed into EU law.

In retaliation to the bloc’s sanctions, China has decided to introduce sanctions against ten European Union officials and four European organizations after accusing them of spreading lies and false information about the Xinjiang region.

“China decided to sanction ten people and four organizations who seriously harmed the country’s sovereignty and interests by spreading lies and false information with evil intent,” the ministry said in a statement as quoted by Sputnik.

The European Parliament President David Sassoli called the sanctions against EU lawmakers and organizations unacceptable, stressing that such actions by Beijing will have consequences.

“China’s sanctions on MEPs, the Human Rights Subcommittee and EU bodies are unacceptable and will have consequences. The sanctions hit MEPs and @Europarl_EN bodies for expressing opinions in the exercise of their democratic duty Human rights are inalienable rights,” Sassoli said on Twitter.

China has been rebuked globally for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending members of the community to undergo some form of forcible re-education or indoctrination.

Beijing, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang while reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have surfaced, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal crackdown on the ethnic community, according to a report.

Groups such as the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) said those inside the camps are victims of torture, rape, political indoctrination and forced sterilisations. The US Department of State under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the crackdown on Uyghurs as ‘genocide’.

Beijing has been restricting information flow from the area to scrub evidence, leading countries to make determinations as best as they can.

Surveillance and censorship have long hindered a full view of conditions in Xinjiang. However, last year, Beijing locked-down borders, citing the coronavirus; expelled foreign journalists who reported on Xinjiang; and scrubbed information off websites across the region, reported Washington Post.

The designation of genocide would become an indelible stain on President Xi Jinping’s legacy and further boost European nations to join the United States in imposing economic sanctions and calls to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Since 2017, a massive political ‘reeducation’ campaign against Uyghurs and other groups have been carried out by the government in Xinjiang, with scholars estimating over a million people detained in camps, some transferred to prison and others pressured to work in factories, Washington Post reported.

Beijing’s clampdown on the flow of information has also made it challenging for Xinjiang researchers to prove systemic implementation and intent for the most explosive allegations, including torture and rape in the camps.

The lack of clarity is clearly hurting calls of action by activists. Some are pushing for a boycott of the Olympics, with the slogan “Close the camps or lose the Games.”

However, activists believe Western governments discussing issues such as sanctions or an Olympic boycott would pressure Beijing but would not immediately aid Uyghurs.