In a coordinated move, the European Union, the US, Britain, and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and entities on Monday, for human rights abuses against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. On Tuesday, Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement welcoming the Western action, adding they were concerned about reports of abuses from Xinjiang.
China retaliated with sanctions of its own. It has consistently denied all reports of atrocities against Uighurs, maintaining it is only “deradicalising” elements of its population in the interests of security.
Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox
Against China: The sanctions from EU, UK and Canada, which include travel bans and freezing of assets, are against the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau; Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; Wang Junzheng, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region; Wang Mingshan, Secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region; and Zhu Hailun, Former Secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The US too imposed sanctions on Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo. “As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the persons above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to Office of Foreign Assets Control. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked,” the US Department of Treasury said in a statement.
By China: Those sanctioned by China include five Members of European Parliament and the Political and Security Committee, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body, among others. According to a Reuters report, China also summoned the EU ambassador, Nicolas Chapuis, and the UK ambassador, Caroline Wilson, to lodge “solemn protests”.
Why they matter
This is the first time the EU has imposed sanctions on China since an arms embargo after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. That embargo is still in place. Although the EU sanctions are not very damaging, they show a hardening of stance against its largest trading partner.
Also significant is that the Western powers moved together, in what is being seen as a result of the US push to deal with China along with its allies. According to Reuters, “senior US administration officials have said they are in daily contact with governments in Europe on China-related issues.” The sanctions have come after a meeting between US and Chinese officials in Alaska last week, in what Washington described as “tough and direct talks”.
Why the sanctions
Xinjiang has a large number of Uighurs, Muslims of Turkic descent. Over the past few decades, more and more Han Chinese have settled in Xinjinag, which saw violent clashes between them and the Uighurs.
China is now accused of putting over a million people in internment camps to “de-Muslimise” them and make them integrate better in the Communist country. Allegations are that these people have been forced to leave behind their occupations, properties and families, to stay at the camps. Survivors, human rights organisations, and governments of other countries have alleged physical, psychological and sexual torture. People can be sent to the camps for showing any signs of “extremism” — sporting beards, fasting during Ramzan, dressing differently from the majority, sending Eid greetings, praying “too often” etc.
China has maintained that all it is doing in the camps is to de-radicalise people and give them skill training, so they can stay away from violence and extremism.