The European Union has imposed sanctions on China for human rights violations in Xinjiang. It is the first time that the bloc has imposed such punishments against the Asian country in more than 30 years.
On Monday, four Chinese officials were sanctioned for ordering arbitrary detentions and coordination measures to prevent Muslims and other minorities from following their faith and maintaining their customs, which denies them the right to religious freedom.
Those affected are Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Department, Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, senior officials, and Zhu Hailun, former governor of Urumqi City, the capital of Xinjiang. The Xinjiang Department of Public Security, Construction and Production was also subject to sanctions. Everyone is prohibited from doing business with EU countries and entering their territory.
Although more symbolic in nature, the measures mark a strengthening of the EU’s position on China. The last time the European bloc took such a step against the country was in 1989: an arms embargo on the country was established after the Tiananmen Square massacre, when student protesters were severely suppressed. The embargo is still in effect. China is the EU’s second largest trading partner, after the United States.
In response, the Chinese government asked the European bloc to “correct its mistake” and imposed sanctions on ten European officials, including five MEPs, and four entities on the continent, accused of attacking Chinese sovereignty. They will not be able to enter China or do business with institutions in the country.
China is criticized internationally for keeping Uyghurs held in huge detention centers. In 2018, a UN team received complaints that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities had been detained in Xinjiang and said it had concrete evidence of this. Another study, published in September 2020, indicates the existence of 380 detention camps.
Beijing denies allegations of abuse and says the sites are spaces for re-education, aimed at countering extremism and teaching new skills. The Uyghurs have faced a three-year comprehensive campaign to make them obedient supporters of the Communist Party, to weaken their commitment to Islam, and to transfer them from farms to factories.
Villages and towns in Xinjiang are surrounded by large police checkpoints, which use facial recognition scanners to register people in the area. There are also records that Uyghurs are being tracked via a cell phone.
The United States calls the situation in Xinjiang genocide. The position was announced in January, the penultimate day of the Donald Trump administration.
Myanmar and Turkey
On Monday, the EU also issued sanctions against Burmese officials, including General Min Aung Hlang, head of the military junta that launched a coup on February 1. Min was accused of being “responsible for sabotaging democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar”. In addition to him, ten other Burmese officials were punished for their involvement in the coup.
The bloc is also debating its relations with Turkey. After a year of tensions, relations were reestablished in early 2021. Last week, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had a video conference with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, after this meeting, Turkey announced its withdrawal from the so-called Istanbul Convention. The 2011 accord requires governments to pass legislation that punishes domestic violence and abuse against women.
Turkey is also under question because of a recent judicial attempt to restrain the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish and the second largest in the Turkish opposition.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived at the Brussels meeting on Monday, criticizing what he called “the lights and shadows” in Turkey. “The events we have just witnessed in recent days, the desire to ban the HDP and the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention are bad signs,” he said.