EU, US, Canada, UK Sanction Chinese Officials, Entities Over Rights Abuses in Xinjiang

The multilateral moves mark the latest salvo in a growing movement to hold China accountable
EU, US, Canada, UK Sanction Chinese Officials, Entities Over Rights Abuses in Xinjiang European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks at a news conference following a virtual meeting with China's President Xi Jinping, Sept. 14, 2020.

The European Union, U.S., Canada, and the U.K. on Monday leveled sanctions against Chinese officials and security entities as part of a multilateral approach to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017. The sanctions follow earlier ones by Washington on Chinese officials and entities last year, as well as the U.S. designation in January of China’s policies in the region as genocide—a label that has since been adopted through resolutions in the parliaments of Canada and The Netherlands.

Chinese officials have said camps in the XUAR are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Earlier on Monday, the EU announced travel bans and asset freezes on Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng; and the former head of the XUAR, Zhu Hailun. Additionally, the EU targeted the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps’ Public Security Bureau, which it said, “is responsible for serious human rights violations in China, in particular large-scale arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities.”

The sanctions marked the first by the EU against China since an arms embargo in 1989 in the aftermath of the July 4 massacre of pro-democracy student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which remains in place. They also come as Brussels and Beijing seek to finalize a major trade deal that was agreed to in principle last year, known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the U.S.

The two sides are mired in a stalemate in talks to arrange a visit by EU ambassadors to the XUAR to probe reports of abuses there, including extralegal incarceration, forcible sterilization of women, and forced labor. The talks on the EU trip stalled over Brussels’ request for access to jailed Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, an economist jailed for life on separatism charges in 2014, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

A facility believed to be an internment camp located north of Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, June 2, 2019. RFA

US sanctions

Later on Monday, the U.S. Department of State announced it had also leveled sanctions against Wang and Chen under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program “in connection with the People's Republic of China’s (PRC) appalling abuses in Xinjiang.”

In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. had done so in partnership with the U.K. and Canada, and in parallel with EU measures, as part of a demonstration of “our ongoing commitment to working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights and shining a light on those in the PRC government and CCP (Chinese Communist Party) responsible for these atrocities.”

In an accompanying statement, the U.S. Department of the Treasury said its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had blocked all property and interests in property belonging to Wang and Chen that are in the U.S., as well as those in the possession or control of U.S. persons.

The Trump administration slapped sanctions last year 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.

Monday’s announcement followed a tense meeting between Blinken and his counterpart Wang Yi and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska last week, during which the two sides traded barbs over CCP policies in Tibet, Hong Kong, and the XUAR ahead of their first top-level diplomatic talks since President Joe Biden took office.

Canada and UK

Canada also imposed sanctions against four Chinese officials and one entity over human rights violations in the XUAR, the country’s foreign ministry said on Monday. The names of those targeted in the sanctions were not immediately available.

“We remain deeply concerned by the egregious human rights violations that are taking place in Xinjiang at the hands of the Chinese state,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau said in a statement.

“Today, we are joining our partners in calling on the Government of China to put an end to this systematic campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities and to hold those responsible to account.”

Canada’s House of Commons voted to recognize China’s abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR as genocide last month following a similar resolution by Dutch lawmakers.

While actions to be taken in tandem by the U.K. were not immediately clear, Reuters news agency cited a U.K. foreign office spokesman as saying that Britain’s foreign secretary will update parliament later on Monday on the situation in the XUAR and steps the U.K. will take to address abuses there.

The foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K., and U.S. Secretary of State Blinken issued a joint statement Monday in which they pledged to “continue to stand together to shine a spotlight on China’s human rights violations.”

Also on Monday, Australia's parliament debated a motion to condemn “systematic breaches” of human rights by China in the XUAR, with ruling Liberal Party lawmaker Kevin Andrews moving a private member’s motion that drew support from members of all major parties.

Adrian Zenz (R) speaks with RFA's Alim Seytoff (L) during an interview in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. RFA

China reacts

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a statement condemning Brussels for what it called “unilateral sanctions … based on nothing but lies and disinformation [that] disregards and distorts facts, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, and severely undermines China-EU relations.”

It responded by announcing its own travel and asset sanctions on 10 individuals “that severely harm China’s sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation,” including members of the EU, Dutch, and Belgian parliaments, and several scholars. The sanctions also targeted the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany, and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark.

The ministry warned that additional moves by the EU would lead China to “resolutely make further reactions.”

The Chinese embassy in Australia also issued a statement saying Monday’s parliamentary debate on the situation in the XUAR was based on “ridiculous and absurd rhetoric” and suggesting that allegations of rights abuses there “were deliberately made to smear China.”

Sanctions welcomed

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service on Monday, Nury Turkel, a commissioner with the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal government body, welcomed what he called a “long-expected decision” by the U.S. and its allies in holding China to account.

“The international community has woken up to this brutal reality that it has been trading with a genocidal regime in Beijing for decades,” he said.

“Following this move, it’s reasonably expected that the European Parliament should reject the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment that both the Trump and Biden Administration officials expressed concerns over.”

The EU sanctions were also applauded by Uyghur rights groups, including the Munch-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), whose president Dolkun Isa said they send “a clear message” that the CCP cannot act with impunity in the XUAR and urged the rest of the international community to follow suit.

But the WUC said that the EU must apply its position “consistently” to its relations with China, adding that the sanctions do not justify a weaker approach to other China-related policy areas, including the CAI.

“Only a consistent human rights-based approach, in cooperation with international allies, will make concrete advances in ending the Uyghur genocide,” the group said.

Separately, German researcher Adrian Zenz—one of the scholars targeted by Beijing in its retaliatory sanctions on Monday—also suggested that the sanctions were “long overdue.”

The senior fellow with the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, who is an expert on policies of incarceration and forced labor in the XUAR, said China may have miscalculated in its response by targeting “politicians from almost every major political bloc in the European Parliament and several entities, including research institutions and scholars.” He told RFA he expects that the move will have a “significantly negative impact” on EU-China relations.

“The Comprehensive Investment Agreement between China and the EU has not been ratified yet and it needs to be ratified by the European Parliament,” he said.

“Of course, several members were sanctioned, you know, and so I think China has done itself quite a disservice with this step.”

Reported by Alim Seytoff and Adile Ablet for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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