The U.S. and its allies – Canada, Britain and the European Union – on Monday announced sanctions on several Chinese officials alleged to have links to what U.S. officials say is a “genocidal” campaign against Uyghur Muslims.
The U.S.-led multi-national, coordinated sanctions drew condemnation and some immediate retaliatory sanctions from China.
The moves offered a glimpse into the growing divide between China and the U.S. and its trans-Atlantic allies, which, like Washington, are increasingly wary of China’s increasing power.
The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Europe this week visiting counterparts, noted that the U.K., Canada and the EU were also imposing various sanctions.
The U.S. sanctions targeted two individuals: Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB).
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the XPCC is a paramilitary organization that “enhances internal control over the region by advancing China’s vision of economic development in [Xinjiang] that emphasizes subordination to central planning and resource extraction.“
Both the XPSB and the XPCC have already been sanctioned by the U.S. Wang and Chen are being sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, which means assets they may have in the U.S. are frozen and Americans cannot do business with them.
It is hard to say exactly how much financial damage the new sanctions will do, but given the coordination with Europe, Britain and Canada, it packs a symbolic punch.
The EU on Monday morning approved sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in the internment of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs. In response, the Chinese government sanctioned 10 individuals and four entities in Europe that it argues “severely harm China’s sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”
The EU sanctions were believed to be the first from the bloc to target China on human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
The U.K. imposed sanctions on four individuals and one entity, including the two individuals sanctions by the United States.
Canada announced it is imposing sanctions on the same four individuals and one entity. The Canadian sanctions come at an unusually sensitive time: China has put on trial two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on espionage charges. The men‘s supporters say they have been detained in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecom executive.
Based on the various statements issued, it appeared that the U.S. had earlier sanctioned some of the people and entities its allies were targeting Monday.
Shortly before the Alaska meeting between top Chinese and U.S foreign policy officials, the U.S. announced a series of sanctions on 24 officials it linked to China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. Chinese officials pointed to those sanctions as setting a bad tone for the Alaska meeting, which was the first high-level gathering between Chinese diplomats and aides to U.S. President Joe Biden.
A Reuters report said this is the first such coordinated Western action against Beijing under new U.S. President Joe Biden.
Beijing hit back immediately with punitive measures against the EU that appeared broader, including European lawmakers, diplomats, institutes and families, and banning their businesses from trading with China.
China denies all accusations of abuse of Uighurs.
The coordinated effort appeared to be early fruit in a concerted U.S. diplomatic push to confront China in league with allies, a core element of Biden’s still evolving China policy.
Senior U.S. administration officials have said they are in daily contact with governments in Europe on China-related issues, something they call the “Europe roadshow.”
“Amid growing international condemnation, (China) continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Antony Blinken said in statement ahead of meetings with EU and NATO ministers in Brussels this week.
The EU 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.
The U.S. 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.
Separately, the foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand issued a statement expressing “grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang” and welcoming the measures announced by Canada, the European Union, Britain and the United States.
While mainly symbolic, the EU sanctions mark a hardening attitude towards China, which Brussels regarded as a benign trading partner but now views as a systematic abuser of rights and freedoms.
China’s reprisal was swift.
China responded to the EU by saying it had decided to impose sanctions on 10 EU individuals in a rare escalation of diplomatic tensions.
China on Tuesday said it summoned foreign diplomats in protest after the U.S., the EU, Canada and Britain imposed sanctions on Chinese officials.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Tuesday called the new sanctions a “slander and an affront to the reputation and dignity of the Chinese people.”
“I admonish them that they should not underestimate the firm determination of the Chinese people to defend their national interests and dignity, and they will pay the price for their folly and arrogance,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.
That came hours after the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers denounced new wave of criticism and sanctions against both countries.
The spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the EU’s sanctions over the alleged detention and forced labor of Uighur Muslims were based on “maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”
The move “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “flagrantly breaches international law,” the spokesperson said, urging the “hypocritical” EU to instead address its own mistakes.
Members of European Parliament (MEP) Reinhard Butikofer, Michael Gahler, Raphael Glucksmann, Ilhan Kyuchyuk, and Miriam Lexmann are among those sanctioned by Beijing, because they “severely harm China’s sovereignty.”
Also targeted are the Dutch, Belgian, and Lithuanian MPs Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma, Samuel Cogolati, and Dovile Sakaliene, as well as German and Swedish scholars Adrian Zenz and Bjorn Jerden.
Four EU-based democracy and human rights committees and groups have been sanctioned as well. All those added to the blacklist are barred from entering or doing business with China.
The move is part of a raft of EU sanctions against China, North Korea, Libya, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Russia, where, Brussels claims, torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances are being carried out.
At a news conference in the southern Chinese city of Nanning, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov rejected outside critiques of their authoritarian political systems and said they were working to further global progress on issues from climate change to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Countries should stand together to oppose all forms of unilateral sanctions,” Wang said. “These measures will not be embraced by the international community.”
Russia is also under Western sanctions over human rights abuses and military aggression against Ukraine.
Imposing their own rules on everyone else
Lavrov said Russia’s ties with China grew stronger as Moscow’s relations with the EU suffered damage, while accusing the West of “imposing their own rules on everyone else, which they believe should underpin the world order.”
“If Europe broke these relations, simply destroying all the mechanisms that have been created for many years, then, probably, objectively, this leads to the fact that our relations with China are developing faster than what is left of relations with European countries,” Lavrov said.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two ministers said no country should seek to impose its form of democracy on others.
“Interference in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs under the excuse of ‘advancing democracy’ is unacceptable,” the statement said.
China says members of the Uyghur and other minority groups in Xinjiang have voluntarily taken part in job training and de-radicalization courses, denying charges that more than 1 million have been locked up in prison-like reeducation camps.
The U.S. on Chinese has also imposed sanctions and Hong Kong officials accused of rolling back freedoms in the former British colony that was handed over to China in 1997. Britain has offered residency and a path to citizenship to millions born before the handover, further infuriating the authorities in Beijing.
China’s embassy in London criticized Britain’s imposition of sanctions.
“I feel disappointed, and I’m strongly opposed to this move, because this is a totally wrong decision,” Yang Xiaoguang, China’s charge d’affaires in London, told Sky News.
“The accusation against us in Xinjiang is totally groundless, and not based on facts.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would retaliate on Monday with sanctions against 10 EU individuals and four entities, including European lawmakers and scholars.
“The individuals concerned and their families are prohibited from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of China. They and companies and institutions associated with them are also restricted from doing business with China,” reads the statement.
China’s counter-measures included sanctions on European lawmakers, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body known as the Political and Security Committee and two institutes.
China also summoned the EU ambassador, Nicolas Chapuis, and the UK ambassador, Caroline Wilson, to lodge “solemn protests”.
“The so-called sanctions based on lies are not acceptable,” Wang Yi, foreign minister and state councilor, said separately during a joint briefing with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
German politician Reinhard Butikofer, who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation to China, was among the most high-profile figures to be hit. The non-profit Alliance of Democracies Foundation, founded by former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was on the list, according to a statement by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Also included was Adrian Zenz, a German scholar whose research was cited by the State Department last year when highlighting alleged abuses in Xinjiang.
The Netherlands summoned China’s ambassador to The Hague after Beijing announced its measures on 10 Europeans, while the European Parliament, along with German, Dutch, Belgian and other foreign ministers, rejected the Chinese retaliation.
Restricted from entering China or doing business with it, Beijing accused its targets of seriously harming the country’s sovereignty over Xinjiang.
Harmful and pointless
All 27 EU governments agreed to the bloc’s punitive measures, but Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, called them “harmful” and “pointless.”
Russia and China lash out at ‘destructive’ U.S. and call for stability between global superpowers
China and Russia on Tuesday lashed out at the “destructive” behavior of the U.S. and called for a UN Security Council summit to establish stability between global superpowers.
The show of diplomatic unity came after a Western coalition imposed sanctions on Chinese officials.
China on Tuesday summoned the British and EU ambassadors over the coordinated sanctions.
After meeting in the Chinese city of Guilin, Chinese and Russian foreign ministers on Tuesday called for the permanent members of the UN Security Council to gather for a summit “to establish direct dialogue about ways to resolve mankind’s common problems in the interests of maintaining global stability”.
The statement also urged other countries to refrain from “politicizing human rights issues” in a clear reference to the deplorable human rights record of both Russia and China.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that Russia and China agree about the “destructive” intentions of the U.S., which he criticized for “relying on the military and political alliances of the Cold War-era and creating new closed alliances in the same spirit to undermine the UN-centered international legal architecture.”
Moscow and Beijing both view recent Western sanctions as “unacceptable,” Lavrov said on Tuesday. “Punishing anyone on the world arena today is just wrong, and using the same methods against Russia and China is simply stupid,” he was quoted as saying.
Russia is bracing for a new round of sanctions over what Washington says was meddling in last year’s presidential elections. Russia has denied any involvement.
Russia has long been pushing for such a UNSC summit.
The Russian foreign ministry’s statement did not mention the United States by name. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that Moscow and Beijing were both unhappy with U.S. behavior.
Lavrov said: “We emphasized that against the background of active attempts by the West to promote its concept of a ‘rules-based world order’, the joint efforts of Russia and China…to preserve the modern system of international law are becoming more and more relevant.”
Both countries’ ties with Washington are strained.
U.S. and Chinese officials on Friday concluded what Washington called “tough and direct” talks in Alaska, while Russia’s ambassador is back in Moscow for talks after U.S. President Joe Biden said he believed President Vladimir Putin was a killer.
Kicking off his two-day trip to China on Monday, Lavrov issued a call for Moscow and Beijing to reduce their dependence on the U.S. dollar.
Tuesday’s joint statement urged other countries to refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of Russia and China.
Lavrov said Russia and China regarded European and Western sanctions as unacceptable.
Russia too is braced for a new round of U.S. sanctions over what Washington says was its meddling in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which Moscow denies.
Lavrov also took a swipe at the EU, accusing Brussels of destroying Russia-EU ties. He said that Moscow only had relations with individual EU nations now.
“On the Western front there are no changes, but in the East there is an intensive agenda which grows richer every year,” he said.