The European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States, in a coordinated effort, imposed sanctions against officials in China over human rights abuses in the far western Xinjiang region, to which Beijing responded with its own.
The United Nations and human rights groups said China has detained Uyghurs at camps in Xinjiang, where allegations of torture, forced labour and sexual abuse have emerged.
China has denied the allegations, claiming the camps are “re-education” facilities used to combat terrorism.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the treatment of Uyghurs amounted to “appalling violations of the most basic human rights”.
The EU has not imposed new sanctions on China over human rights abuses since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, when troops in Beijing opened fire on pro-democracy protesters.
The sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, target four senior officials in Xinjiang who have been accused of serious human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims. European citizens and companies are not permitted to provide them with financial assistance.
Those targeted have been named as:
- Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, the local police force
- Wang Mingshan, a member of Xinjiang’s Communist Party standing committee, who, the EU says, “holds a key political position in charge of overseeing” the detention of Uyghurs
- Wang Junzheng, party secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a state-owned economic and paramilitary organisation
- The former deputy Communist Party head in Xinjiang, Zhu Hailun, who is accused of having held a “key political position” in overseeing the running of the camps
The sanctions also froze the assets of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which was described as a “state-owned economic and paramilitary organization” that runs Xinjiang and controls its economy.
Mr. Raab called the abuse of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”.
“I think it’s clear that by acting with our partners – 30 of us in total – we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese government, that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systematic violations of basic human rights and that we will act in concert to hold those responsible to account,” he told fellow parliamentarians.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity”. The US said it sanctioned Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo for their connection to “arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious human rights abuses”.
Canada’s foreign ministry said: “Mounting evidence points to systemic, state-led human rights violations by Chinese authorities.”
The sanctions came amid increasing international scrutiny over China’s treatment of Uyghurs.
China on Monday said the sanctions – initially announced by the EU – were “based on nothing but lies and disinformation”.
It said it would sanction 10 people and four entities in Europe “that severely harm China’s sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation” in response. Those affected by China’s sanctions are barred from entering the country or doing business with it.
German politician Reinhard Butikofer, who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation to China, was among the most high profile officials on China’s list. Adrian Zenz, a leading expert on China’s policies in Xinjiang, and Swedish scholar Bjorn Jerden were also targeted. (Source: BBC)