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Australia to upgrade sanctions arsenal as West spars with China over Xinjiang

Canberra says it will adopt Magnitsky-style sanctions by end of year to target individual human rights violators

Kimberley Kitching's bill to introduce Magnitsky-like sanctions introduced in Australian Senate. (Twitter screenshot)

Kimberley Kitching's bill to introduce Magnitsky-like sanctions introduced in Australian Senate. (Twitter screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Australia is set to become the latest country to adopt Magnitsky-style targeted sanctions against human rights violators just months after its American, British, and European allies jointly sanctioned Chinese officials over the ongoing persecution of minorities in Xinjiang.

Canberra is set to update existing sanctions legislation in order to target "perpetrators of egregious acts of international concern" with entry bans and financial sanctions, according to a statement issued by Foreign Minister Marise Payne Thursday afternoon (Aug. 5). Individuals involved in "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, gross human rights violations, malicious cyber activity, and serious corruption" will be subject to the punitive measures, irrespective of their nationality.

Payne said the amendments will be in place by the end of the year. Liberal Party Senator James Paterson lauded the government's decision, tweeting that "Australia will join our friends and allies like the United States, the UK, Canada and the EU in a global democratic pushback against rising authoritarianism and show those who threaten international peace and security that there is a cost to pay for their actions."

The Global Magnitsky Act is a 2016 American law that targets major human rights violators by revoking or denying travel visas or freezing their assets within the U.S. In March of this year, the U.S., U.K., Canada, and the EU simultaneously slapped sanctions on Chinese officials connected to the abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

In a bid to spur cross-party action on the sanctions, which were recommended to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government eight months ago by a joint parliamentary committee, Australian Labor Party Senator and Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China co-chair Kimberly Kitching on Tuesday (Aug. 3) introduced a stand-alone bill calling for the nation to adopt Magnitsky-style sanctions.

"Without this legislation, not only are we an outlier amongst similar democracies, but we may also become a honey pot for channeling ill-gotten gains as more and more countries implement their own sanctioning legislation," Australia's ABC News quoted her as saying.

Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times responded to Australian legislators' call for expanded sanctions with an op-ed blasting Canberra for blindly "imitating the US at every step in relevant issues" while citing the "historic progress" made in Xinjiang. The ultimate goal of human rights legislation passed in the West is to cement Washington's "ideological hegemony and soft power," it asserted.

Australia-China ties have been in decline since 2018, when Canberra banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from building Australia's 5G infrastructure. Australia has also joined three of its Five Eyes partners in condemning China's treatment of Uyghurs as well as its crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

Last year, the Australian leadership's call for an independent, international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan drew the wrath of China, its largest trade partner. Beijing retaliated with massive tariffs on a bevy of Australian exports, from wine to barley.