TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Acting in concert, the U.S., U.K., Canada, and EU on Monday (March 22) announced sanctions on Chinese officials with connections to the ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which Washington has labeled a genocide, and China quickly retaliated with sanctions of its own.
The U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Chen Mingguo (陳明國), director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and Wang Junzheng (王君正), secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, for their involvement in the persecution of Muslim minorities in the western region. "Chinese authorities will continue to face consequences as long as atrocities occur in Xinjiang," OFAC Director Andrea Gacki stated.
Last week, the U.S. State Department added 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials to its sanctions list after deeming them to be complicit in snuffing out Hong Kong's autonomy in violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
A united front
The U.K., Canada, and the EU also slapped sanctions on Chen and Wang plus two other top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials in Xinjiang as well as the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is accused of relying on forced labor.
In a joint statement, the British and Canadian foreign ministers and American secretary of state said they had taken "coordinated action" in sync with the EU to "send a clear message" about rights violations in Xinjiang. They called on China to end "repressive practices" in Xinjiang, citing "severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilization, and the concerted destruction of Uhghur heritage."
The statement also petitioned China to allow independent investigators, foreign diplomats, and reporters unfettered access to the region.
The term "genocide" has been applied to the CCP's actions in Xinjiang by the administrations of President Biden and former President Donald Trump as well as the Canadian Parliament. With an eye on China, the British House of Commons is poised to vote on an amendment to the trade bill that would bar the U.K. from entering into a bilateral trade deal with any government that its courts determine is committing that crime.
The tit-for-tat comes just days after the highly anticipated U.S.-China talks in Anchorage, Alaska, attended by American Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese envoy Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi. With relations between the superpowers at their lowest point in decades, the meetings quickly turned undiplomatic, with both sides airing a laundry list of grievances in front of cameras, though behind closed doors they were reportedly able to identify a few areas of common interest like climate change.
The latest escalation in tensions between China and the West also comes on the heels of the trials of two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, conducted in secret on Monday and Friday (March 19), respectively. China detained the two in 2018 for allegedly endangering national security.
It was not until last summer that the two were charged with espionage charges. The cases of the "two Michaels" are widely viewed as thinly veiled retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), CFO Huawei and daughter of the Chinese telecom giant's founder, on a U.S. warrant for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran.
Canada, the U.S., and other key allies have accused Beijing of practicing "hostage diplomacy."
Rough waters ahead for EU-China relations
As for the EU, Monday marked the first time the 27-member bloc had leveled sanctions against China since the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs fired back, announcing sanctions on 10 European figures and four entities that "severely harm China's sovereignty and maliciously spread lies and disinformation." The ministry went on to chide the EU for "lecturing others on human rights and interfering in their internal affairs," telling the bloc to "reflect on itself, face squarely the severity of its mistake and redress it."
The individuals include seven politicians: five members of European Parliament and legislators from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Lithuania. Two scholars were also named: Swedish National China Centre Director Bjorn Jerden and German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who in 2019 published a widely cited report detailing the Xinjiang internment camps believed to house over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
The four "entities" now subject to Chinese sanctions are EU policy-making body the Political and Security Council, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, and two think thanks: Germany's Mercator Institute for China Studies and Denmark's Alliance of Democracies Foundation.
China's move, which bars its targets from entering or doing business with the country, was met with a mix of criticism and amusement among European officials, with one of the sanctioned MEPs, Reinhard Bütikofer, tweeting "I might get onto the Honour Roll! What will they want to do to me? Freeze my assets in China?" The German legislator later pointed out that while he is now prevented from visiting China, Hong Kong, or Macau, Taiwan is still a viable option.
The Chinese leadership has let me know that I will not be allowed to visit the mainland, Hong Kong or Macao. But then there is Taiwan. :-)— Reinhard Bütikofer (@bueti) March 22, 2021
The sanctions signal choppier waters ahead for Chinese-European relations. The world's second-largest economy signed a major investment deal with the EU in December. The deal has yet to be ratified by the European Parliament, however, and China's blacklisting of five of its members is likely to stoke further opposition to the deal, seen by some as a pet project of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's that was rushed through to benefit German automobile makers.
In the agreement, Beijing gave Brussels assurances on issues that have long been sources of tension between the two sides, pledging to allow European investors more access to the Chinese market and to roll back discriminatory practices, such as forced technology transfers as a precondition to market access. China also pledged for the first time to "pursue ratification" of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) conventions on forced labor, an issue drawing ever-more attention amid evidence of hundreds of thousands of Muslims being pressed into picking cotton in Xinjiang.
Bütikofer, who also chairs the EU Parliament's China Delegation, told Taiwan News in a January interview that Beijing's pledge to "pursue ratification" of the ILO forced labor conventions is so much "hot air." He went on, "You promised to ratify. Maybe we will wait without ratification and see what you do."