The European Union has imposed its first major sanctions in decades on China over its human rights abuses of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, where millions of members of the ethnic minority are being incarcerated in concentration camps. The move was agreed upon at a foreign ministers meeting on Monday in Brussels.
The move follows international investigations into China’s treatment of the Uyghur ethnic minority, as well as Kazakhs and Huis, who testified on China’s internment of minority groups.
Investigators say that that the concentration camps are party of the Chinese Community Party’s efforts to forcibly assimilate ethnic minorities, sometimes through torture and forced labor. Mass rapes and sterilization of women have also been alleged to have occurred at the facilities.
Among those now on the EU sanctions list are four regional and party representatives of the Communist Party of China, as well as a construction firm operating in Xinjiang. Their names were published in the EU Official Journal.
According to German publication Deutsche Welle, the sanctions are the first to be levelled against China for human rights abuses since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
The sanctions include imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng. The former head of the Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun, was also named. The state-run construction company targeted by sanctions is the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.
In addition to the Chinese officials, the European Union is set to sanction entities from North Korea, Russia, Libya, Eritrea and South Sudan. Eleven officials involved in Myanmar’s military coup, which began last month, will also be among those targeted.
Beijing denies the allegations, claiming that the Xinjiang camps, which are estimated to hold upwards of a million prisoners, are simply “vocational education centers” designed to deprogram extremists and prevent terrorism.
Following the announcement of sanctions, Beijing responded with its own sanctions of European Union citizens including politicians, alleging “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs. The Communist Party claims that the EU is “flagrantly violating international law” by sanctioning Chinese entities.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it intends to endorse sanctions against EU entities for “maliciously spreading lies and false information,” naming five members of the EU parliament — Reinhard Butikofer, Michael Gahler, Raphael Glucksmann, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Miriam Lexmann — along with EU human rights and security committee members, and Adrian Zenz, a U.S.-based academic who has published reports on the ongoing abuses against ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Chinese government will also sanction Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies and a pro-democracy organization in Denmark.
Those affected by China’s sanctions will be banned from entering mainland China as well as the regions of Hong Kong and Macao. Furthermore, their affiliated companies and institutions will also be banned from communicating with China.