West sanctions China over Xinjiang abuses

·3-min read

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first such co-ordinated Western action against Beijing under new US President Joe Biden.

Beijing hit back immediately with punitive measures against the EU that appeared broader, including European MPs, diplomats, institutes and families, and banning their businesses from trading with China.

Western governments are seeking to hold Beijing accountable for mass detentions of Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, where the United States says China is committing genocide.

China denies all accusations of abuse.

The co-ordinated effort appeared to be early fruit in a concerted US diplomatic push to confront China in league with allies, a core element of Biden's still evolving China policy.

"Amid growing international condemnation, (China) continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said before meetings with EU and NATO ministers in Brussels this week.

Activists and UN rights experts say at least one million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations. China says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

The European Union was the first to impose sanctions on Monday on four Chinese officials, including a top security director, and one entity, a decision later mirrored by Britain and Canada.

Those also targeted by the United States were Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau and another senior official in the region, Wang Junzheng.

The United States had already last year designated for sanctions the top official in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, who was not targeted by the other Western allies on Monday, to avoid a larger diplomatic dispute, experts and diplomats said.

The foreign ministers of Canada and Britain issued a joint statement with Blinken, saying the three were united in demanding that Beijing end its "repressive practices" in Xinjiang.

Evidence of abuses was "overwhelming", including satellite imagery, witness testimony and the Chinese government's own documents, they said.

The move by the US and its allies follows two days of talks between US and Chinese officials last week, which laid bare the tensions between the world's two largest economies.

Among those hit with travel bans and asset freezes were: senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan, the former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, Zhu Hailun, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.

Beijing's reprisal was swift.

Retaliation included sanctions on European MPs, the EU's main foreign policy decision-making body known as the Political and Security Committee and two institutes.

On Tuesday, China also summoned the EU ambassador, Nicolas Chapuis, to lodge a "solemn protest" and demand the bloc correct its error to prevent further damage to relations.

"The so-called sanctions based on lies are not acceptable," Wang Yi, foreign minister and state councillor, said separately during a joint briefing with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.