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EU to slap sanctions on China over abuses of Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang

Demonstration for the rights of the Uyghurs (Leonhard Lenz/WikiCommons)
March 20, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

European Union members have agreed to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials and one entity over Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), European diplomats were quoted as saying Wednesday.

Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries approved the XUAR measures, which would be the first imposed on China by Brussels since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, as part of a package of human rights sanctions that also target individuals in Russia, North Korea and others, AFP news agency reported.

The sanctions, which require formal confirmation by EU foreign ministers meeting on March 22, follow a raft of U.S. sanctions in 2020 on Chinese entities and officials in Xinjiang, and tighter scrutiny on exports from the XUAR over concerns over forced labor. The individuals and entity have not been named.

The sanctions decision came during a stalemate in talks with China to arrange a visit by EU ambassadors to Xinjiang to probe reports of abuses there, including the detention of up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in internment camps since early 2017, forcible sterilization of women and forced labor.

The talks on the EU trip to the XUAR stalled over Brussels request for access to jailed Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, an economist jailed for life on separatism charges in 2014, AFP reported, quoting diplomatic sources.

China’s ambassador to the European Union, Zhang Ming, told an online discussion hosted by the European Policy Centre in Brussels Tuesday said “almost everything had been arranged” for EU member states’ ambassadors to visit Xinjiang, but it had gotten bogged down over “unacceptable requests.”

“They insist on a meeting with one criminal convicted by Chinese law,” he said. “This is unacceptable, I’m so sorry.”

Zhang also condemned and threatened to retaliate against sanctions over China’s actions in the western Xinjiang region.

“Sanctions based on lies could be interpreted as deliberately undermining China’s security and development interests,” said Zhang.

Dolkun Isa, president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said his exile group is “deeply pleased and grateful for the European Union, which consists 27 member states, to come to the agreement to sanction Chinese officials responsible for the Uyghur genocide.”

“This action, in a way, is a symbolic example of the EU’s recognition of the Uyghur genocide being committed by China, after the U.S determination,” he said, referring to the Trump administration ruling in January that the treatment of Uyghurs amounted to genocide.

“This action also showcases that the international community will hold China accountable for committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghur and other indigenous peoples in East Turkestan,” Isa added.

The Trump administration slapped sanctions on several top Chinese officials deemed responsible for rights violations in the XUAR, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

The move, which marked the first time Washington had sanctioned a member of China’s powerful Politburo, followed Trump’s enactment in June of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (UHRPA).

The legislation highlights arbitrary incarceration, forced labor, and other abuses in the XUAR and provides for sanctions against the Chinese officials who enforce them. U.S. customs authorities have also blocked imports of wigs and other products believed to be produced by forced labor in the region.