China yesterday bristled after Western nations lined up to impose sanctions over its crackdown on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, the first concerted international action against Beijing since US President Joe Biden took office.
Rights groups believe at least 1 million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in the northwestern region, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilizing women and imposing forced labor.
Beijing has strongly denied the allegations and says training programs, work schemes and better education have helped stamp out extremism in the region.
On Monday, the EU, the UK and Canada blacklisted four former and current officials in the Xinjiang region, while the US, which had already sanctioned two of those officials in July last year, added the other pair to the list.
New Zealand and Australia yesterday welcomed the measures, but both stopped short of introducing their own on China, a major export market for their goods.
Beijing snapped back immediately, announcing entry bans on 10 Europeans — including five members of the European Parliament — as well as two EU bodies and two think tanks.
The head of the EU delegation, as well as the British ambassador to China, have been summoned by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Beijing goes into attack mode, accusing the West of “lies” and “fabrications” over Xinjiang, and downplaying the impact of the coordinated action.
“Frankly ... we are not worried at all,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) told reporters.
“We urge others not to underestimate the firm will of the Chinese people to defend their national interests and national dignity,” she said, adding those who do “will eventually pay for their stupidity and arrogance.”
Still, the unified move to sanction the officials signaled a possible watershed in the diplomatic approach toward China.
The British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the sanctions were “the clearest possible signal that the international community is united in its condemnation of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China “continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” and called on Beijing to “bring an end to the repression of Uighurs.”
The sanctions, whose impact is mainly symbolic, mark the first time Brussels and London have targeted China over accusations of widespread abuses and forced labor in Xinjiang.
China’s tit-for-tat sanctions drew condemnation from the EU.
Reinhard Butikofer, a German legislator targeted by the sanctions, said the response was “brazen and ridiculous”.
The EU faces a delicate balancing act over relations with China, as it treats Beijing as a rival, but also a potential economic partner.
Late last year, Brussels sealed a major investment accord with China after seven years of negotiations.
The pact has to be approved by the European Parliament, but there has been growing opposition to signing off on the deal.
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