EU set to sanction Chinese officials over human rights abuses

Brussels: Senior European Union leaders have agreed to target China with sanctions over its human rights abuses, blacklisting four people and one entity in Xinjiang, according to several diplomats.

The EU will be imposing sanctions on Chinese officials for the first time since the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, after long negotiations this week once again exposed the bloc’s divisions on how to approach Beijing, according to Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The sanctions have been imposed due to Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang, especially with Uyghur Muslims that have been labelled by the US and some European countries as genocide. They include a travel ban and asset freezes.

The decision still needs formal signing-off, which is expected to happen when foreign ministers meet later in March. A broader list includes human rights violators from China, Russia, North Korea and Africa.

This move to impose sanctions is the latest sign that despite keeping open channels with Beijing and pressing for deeper economic ties, the EU is prepared to confront China on human rights and other issues. The bloc is trying to maintain a delicate and frequently divisive balance in its relationship with a country it calls its partner, competitor and systemic rival, reported WSJ.

Last year, the EU has sanctioned two Chinese individuals and a company over their role in cyberattacks. The union has been continually pressed senior Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping for human rights violations in Xinjiang. This has led to pushback from Chinese officials, with Xi demanding EU leaders to not interfere in domestic affairs.

However, the EU and China have also taken major steps to deepen their economic relations with both sides ending seven years of negotiations on an investment agreement in December. This drew concern from US President Joe Biden and some EU lawmakers. EU officials insisted that the agreement would not prevent them from applying pressure on issues like human rights and Hong Kong.

As President Xi has tightened control in China, tensions have risen between the EU and Beijing, with fights over trade issues and human rights along with what the EU Sees as Chinese disinformation during the COVID-19 crisis.

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.

Meanwhile, China imposed the draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong last year, which criminalises secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces and carries with it strict prison terms. Since its implementation, several pro-democracy lawmakers have been arrested.