US and allies square up to China, announce sanctions

Posted on : 2021-03-24 17:09 KST Modified on : 2021-03-24 17:09 KST
China to launch retaliatory sanctions against the EU
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov bumps elbow with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their meeting in Guilin, China on Tuesday. (EPA/Yonhap News)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov bumps elbow with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their meeting in Guilin, China on Tuesday. (EPA/Yonhap News)

The European Union (EU) decision on Monday to impose sanctions in China over human rights suppressions against Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang prompted Beijing to respond with its own tit-for-tat measures.

With the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joining in imposing sanctions against China, Western countries now appear to be hemming China in over the Uyghur issue.

The China sanctions that have emerged simultaneously from Western countries come in the wake of a heated clash between the US and China at a senior-level meeting in Alaska on Thursday and Friday. They also coincide with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Europe from Monday to Thursday.

It’s a case where the Joe Biden administration’s key diplomatic emphasis on joining allies in pressuring China based on values of human rights and democracy has been eagerly taken up by other Western and Anglosphere countries.

The EU was first to take action. It imposed travel and economic sanctions Tuesday against four Chinese officials and one department, citing their responsibility for suppressing the Uyghur population.

The sanctions applied to Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) Party Committee Secretary Wang Junzheng, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau Director Chen Mingguo, former Xinjiang Party Committee Deputy Secretary Zhu Hailun, Xinjiang Political and Legal Committee Secretary Wang Minshan, and the XPCC Public Security Bureau.

The EU’s sanctions against China were the first since an arms embargo imposed at the time of the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, where the Chinese government undertook an armed suppression of public demonstrations calling for democracy.

International human rights groups and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have accused Chinese authorities of human rights violations, including the mass incarceration of over one million Uyghurs and members of other minority ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region and forced labor in the name of “re-education.”

The US also said it would be adding Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo to its sanctions list. Zhu Hailun and Wang Minshan had already been subject to US sanctions.

In a statement, Blinken said the US was “committed to playing a strong leadership role in global efforts to combat serious human rights abuse.”

The US State Department and Treasury Department also issued statements warning that the US planned to coordinate with like-minded partners on additional action.

The UK and Canada also joined the EU and US in their joint statement with the US declaring, “We will continue to stand together to shine a spotlight on China’s human rights violations. We stand united and call for justice for those suffering in Xinjiang.”

Foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand also released a joint statement raising “concern about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.”

As the joint statements show, the latest sanctions against China are a case of Western countries joining forces deliberately to draw global attention to the suppression of human rights in Xinjiang, which is a particularly sensitive area for China.

Blinken also raised issues related to Xinjiang and criticisms of China during his visits to South Korea and Japan on March 15-18. In his Thursday meeting in Alaska with Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi, he addressed human rights issues in Xinjiang and elsewhere.

Blinken further discussed strengthening trans-Atlantic alliances while attending a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday. From Washington’s perspective, the process has been one of reaffirming the strengthening of key alliances in Asia, followed by an exploratory skirmish with China and the reaffirmation of alliances in Europe — during all of which it has been joining allies in applying mounting pressure on Beijing.

The backlash from China has been vehement.

In a Tuesday meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi complained about a “minority of Western forces engaging in black-and-white propaganda against China over the past few days.”

“They need to understand that the days when they could simply make up falsehoods and meddle in China’s internal affairs are in the past,” he added.

In a joint statement after their meeting that day, Wang and Lavrov said there was “no unified standard for the democratic model” and that the “legitimate right of sovereign states to independently choose their development path should be respected” by other countries.

In a statement the day before, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the move by the EU was “based on nothing but lies and disinformation,” adding that it “grossly interferes in China's internal affairs, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, and severely undermines China-EU relations.”

It also said China would be sanctioning “ten individuals and four entities on the EU side that severely harm China's sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”

The list of people subject to Chinese sanctions included a number of currently serving politicians, including Reinhard Butikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the PRC, and Michael Gahler, chair of the European Parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group. Also named were the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a renowned German research group specializing in China.

According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the Chinese Foreign Minister summoned EU Ambassador to China Nicolas Chapuis on the evening of Monday to protest the sanctions decision and notify him of the retaliatory sanctions.

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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