Britain, Canada and the EU have announced their first-ever sanctions on Chinese government officials over the persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
Australia and New Zealand have welcomed the sanctions but are yet to impose any of their own.
The measures were imposed under Magnitsky legislation passed by the three nations which allows governments to impose sanctions for human rights violations. They were the first sanctions against Chinese officials by the EU and Britain in 30 years.
The sanctions, involving travel bans and asset freezes, were levelled against the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Zhu Hailun, Wang Junzehng , Wang Minghsan and Chen Minggu.
The United States – which has declared that China is committing genocide against the Uighurs – also joined in sanctioning Wang and Chen, having previously imposed sanctions on the other individuals.
“The United States applauds the EU’s broader human rights sanctions action today,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.
“We welcome the EU’s use of this powerful tool to promote accountability for human rights abuse on a global scale.”
It is the first coordinated sanctions effort against Chinese officials, using the Magnitsky mechanism, since the election of US President Joe Biden.
China immediately retaliated by sanctioning 10 Europeans, including academics and several MPs who are part of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China which has launched campaigns in support of Australia following China’s trade boycotts.
And although the British sanctions were welcomed, the government was accused of announcing the measures in an attempt to “buy off” MPs ahead of a crucial vote on a genocide amendment that would allow British courts to declare that genocide is occurring in Xinjiang.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the Commons that the internment of more than one million Uighurs was “the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since World War II.”
“By acting with our partners we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese government that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systemic human rights violations,” Raab said.
Canada, which is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group along with Britain, Australia, United States and New Zealand also joined the coordinated sanctions.
Raab and his Canadian counterpart said in a joint statement that the parallel measures were designed to “send a clear message about the human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang.”
The sanctioned EU officials include: “Reinhard Butikofer, Michael Gahler, Raphaël Glucksmann, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Miriam Lexmann of the European Parliament, Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma of the Dutch Parliament, Samuel Cogolati of the Belgian Federal Parliament, Dovile Sakaliene of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, German scholar Adrian Zenz, Swedish scholar Björn Jerdén, Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union.”
They and their families are now banned from visiting China.
“The Chinese side urges the EU side to reflect on itself, face squarely the severity of its mistake and redress it,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“It must stop lecturing others on human rights and interfering in their internal affairs.
“It must end the hypocritical practice of double standards and stop going further down the wrong path. Otherwise, China will resolutely make further reactions,” the statement warned.
Lexmann said she would not be silenced.
“These sanctions will only serve to redouble our efforts to ensure that our governments do the utmost to hold the Chinese government accountable for gross violations of human rights,” Lexmann said.
Separately, China’s ambassador in France was summoned over “multiplication of unacceptable comments made publicly by the Chinese embassy” directed towards French MPs and a researcher.
China’s ambassador Lu Shaye had already been summoned by the Foreign Ministry last April over posts and tweets by the embassy defending Beijing’s response to the pandemic and criticising the West’s handling of the outbreak.
He was due at the French Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, Paris time.
By Latika Bourke