E.U. and Allies Sanction PRC Officials for Xinjiang Abuses; China Retaliates Against Politicians, Diplomats, Academics

The , U.S., U.K., and Canada announced sanctions on Monday against Chinese officials linked to human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in a move that was met with swift retaliation from . Responding to the E.U.’s sanctions, which were announced first, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs hit back with sanctions against 10 individuals including politicians, diplomats, and academics, as well as four entities, including E.U. bodies and reputed research institutions.

The E.U.’s decision to apply sanctions—the bloc’s first to target China since the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen —comes amid fierce debate about its China policy. Parallel announcements by the U.S., U.K., and Canada represented a noteworthy display of solidarity among allies on Monday, a stark contrast with the U.S.’s “go it alone” approach to sanctions against China in recent years.

The Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala reported on the details of the sanctions announced by the E.U. and its allies on Monday:

The , the European Union, Britain and Canada each announced sanctions against China over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a coordinated effort aimed at holding Beijing accountable for a years-long campaign against Uyghurs and other minority groups in the northwestern Chinese region.

[…] The E.U. sanctions take aim at four senior Chinese officials involved in designing and implementing policy in Xinjiang, as well as one entity: the region’s much-feared public bureau.

The British list targets the same senior officials but names a different security entity.

Notably, neither the E.U. nor British lists includes the Chinese Communist Party’s top official in the region, Chen Quanguo, who was named in more-robust U.S. sanctions last year. [Source]

Very soon after the E.U. made its announcement, Beijing fired back with its own sanctions announcement. Politico ’s Stuart Lau reported on the details of Beijing’s sanctions:

The most prominent entity on China’s hit-list is the European Council’s Political and Security Committee. The Chinese statement did not immediately specify whether the new sanctions directly targeted the 27 ambassadors who make up the PSC. Neither the EU Council nor the Chinese mission to the EU could immediately clarify this.

Five members of the European Parliament are on the list, including the prominent head of the Parliament’s China delegation Reinhard Bütikofer, as well as as Michael Gahler, Raphaël Glucksmann, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Miriam Lexmann. The subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament is also sanctioned.

[…] Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma of the Dutch Parliament, who called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, Lithuanian lawmaker Dovilė Šakalienė, and Belgian lawmaker Samuel Cogolati, who attempted to put up a genocide bill in the legislature, were also sanctioned by Beijing.

German scholar Adrian Zenz, whose works on Xinjiang’s camps have been widely cited, and Swedish scholar Björn Jerdén are also in the list, alongside the prominent Berlin-based China research center, the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany. [Source]

European observers denounced Beijing’s decision to hit back against a comparatively larger number of individuals, including researchers and diplomats, calling it a significant escalation with damaging repercussions for E.U.-China relations. South China Morning Post’s Finbarr Bermingham and Jacob Fromer reported on European reactions, including comments on the impact of China’s sanctions on a prospective E.U.-China investment deal:

The sanctions mark a major turn in EU-China ties, coming less than three months after the pair agreed a bilateral investment deal that has yet to be ratified.

George Magnus, an associate at the China Centre at Oxford University, said that China‘s retaliation may mean “the kiss of death for the investment deal”.

“I don’t know how the Parliament actually gets it through after this,” Magnus said.

Chinese observers had expected a measured response from Beijing.

[…] “Attacking freely elected Members of Parliament shows us the contempt Beijing has for democracy. We will not be intimidated. The EU measures against China have our full support,” [Manfred Weber, chairman of the European ’s Party, the biggest grouping in the European Parliament,] said. [Source]

Like many other Western countries, the E.U. has been grappling with how best to respond to China’s growing global influence. In December 2020, after years of debate, the bloc finally adopted the European Magnitsky Act, empowering the E.U. to sanction individuals for human rights abuses for the first time. That same month, following a strong push by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bloc controversially signed a new E.U.-China investment deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). Proponents of the deal in Europe saw it as a major win for banks and multinationals looking to gain greater access to the Chinese market, while critics saw the deal as hastily closed, viewing the rush to get it signed before then-President elect Biden took office as a sign of Europe’s loss of faith in Washington as a reliable ally. Chinese diplomats saw the successful signing of the deal as a major diplomatic coup.

But the CAI still faces the challenge of ratification by members of the European Parliament before it can take effect. Some Chinese experts believed the E.U.’s targeted sanctions against Xinjiang officials might provide political cover for European China hawks to ultimately vote in favor of ratifying the CAI. But as South China Morning Post’s Finbarr Bermingham and Liu Zhen reported last week, many MEPs viewed Monday’s sanctions as not having gone far enough:

Slapping the first sanctions on Chinese officials for three decades is not enough to convince some sceptics in Brussels to support the EU-China investment deal – even as Beijing warns that it is ready to retaliate in kind.

[…] The message is that sanctions should be only the first step. If the EU wants to get the deal over the line when it comes for ratification in 2022, there needs to be more.

“The sanctions will be insufficient, and we also need Hong Kong-related sanctions – starting with the 10 names the European Parliament stated in the January resolution,” said Miriam Lexmann, a Slovakian MEP, referring to a unanimously passed resolution calling for the sanctioning of Hong Kong officials – including Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – over the imposition of a national security law in the city.

[…] “What we would need to ratify the CAI [Comprehensive Agreement on Investment], apart from the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] commitment to ratify [International Labour Organization] standards, are concrete measures such as a European supply chain law and an EU-wide ban on imports of products from forced labour,” said Engin Eroglu, a German MEP,] who is also a member of the growing Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. [Source]

Following Beijing’s aggressive retaliatory sanctions on Monday, the CAI’s ratification prospects seemed dim. Politico Europe’s Stuart Lau reported on European politicians’ reactions to Beijing’s retaliatory measures: 

For lawmakers in the European Parliament, China’s actions were a deal breaker.

[…] The center-left Socialist and Democrats, the second biggest political grouping in the chamber, said that Beijing would have to remove the sanctions to get a deal. The S&D will “make lifting of Chinese sanctions against Euro-MPs [a] condition for Parliament to enter any talks on EU-China investment deal,” the group said in a statement.

Iuliu Winkler, a center-right lawmaker who led the European Parliament’s monitoring group on the investment pact, on Monday night announced the cancellation of a meeting on the deal scheduled for Tuesday.

“Considering today’s developments in the EU-China relationship, particularly as regards the unacceptable sanctions applied against elected members of the European Parliament and its subcommittee on human rights, it has been decided that the organization of a China monitoring group [meeting on March 23] is inopportune,” Winkler, from the European People’s Party grouping, said in an email seen by POLITICO. [Source]

The decision by the U.S., U.K., and Canada to concurrently impose sanctions on Xinjiang officials was significant for several reasons. By preserving the targeted sanctions framework against human rights abusers in China, the Biden administration has maintained significant continuity in the U.S.’s China policy from the Trump administration. But unlike the Trump administration, which often went about imposing sanctions unilaterally, the Biden administration demonstrated on Monday its commitment to standing with its allies. Moves by the U.K. and Canada to join in were also noteworthy: Ottawa’s decision to join in the sanctions comes at a fraught time for Canada-China relations, on same day that former diplomat Michael Kovrig went on trial behind closed doors in Beijing. And London’s decision to punish four officials and one entity for their human rights abuses in Xinjiang came on the same day that the British government succeeded in shooting down an amendment to its trade bill that would empower U.K. courts to decide whether a country is committing genocide. The so-called “Genocide Amendment,” which was narrowly voted down by 318 votes to 300 on Monday, was widely seen as targeting the genocide taking place in Xinjiang.

European China experts also expressed alarm about Beijing’s decision to go after researchers and think tanks as part of its latest sanctions. Several expressed surprise at the decision to sanction the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), the largest China-focused think tank in Europe. MERICS has over the years produced several in-depth reports on China’s growing influence in Europe, but its research has also often included divergent views on China policy. Observers noted that the move to target MERICS is the second time in recent months that Beijing has singled out and tried to target China-focused foreign research institutions. In November 2020, Beijing named the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) as an “anti-China think tank” in its list of 14 disputes with Australia.

Also named as part of Beijing list of sanctioned individuals on Monday was Xinjiang researcher Adrian Zenz. The sanctions against Zenz are the latest in a series of moves by Beijing seeking to punish and discredit the researcher, who has been responsible for several high profile investigations into human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Last week, Zenz was sued by an unnamed group of companies in Xinjiang for economic damages, amid a broader effort by Chinese government officials and state media to discredit his work without evidence.

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