BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials, including a senior security director, for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first sanctions against Beijing since a 1989 arms embargo Tiananmen Square.
Accused of mass banning of Muslim Uighurs in northwest China, those targeted by the sanctions included Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The EU said Chen was responsible for serious human rights violations.
In its Official Gazette, the EU accused Chen of arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment of Uighurs and people from other ethnic Muslim minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief.
Others hit with travel bans and asset freezes were: senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, former Chinas Xinjiang regional leader Zhu Hailun and the Xinjiang Public Bureau of Manufacturing and Construction Xinjiang.
China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
While largely symbolic, the sanctions mark a significant strengthening in EU policy towards China, which Brussels has long regarded as a good trading partner but now sees as a systematic abuser of fundamental rights and freedoms.
They are also likely to spark tensions between Brussels and Beijing. The EU had not sanctioned China since imposing an arms embargo in 1989 after the pro-democracy crackdown on Tiananmen Square. The arms embargo is still in place.
The 27 EU governments agreed on the sanctions, but Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called them harmful and pointless, reflecting the division of the blocs on how to deal with China’s growth and protect business interests. .
China is the EU’s second largest trading partner after the United States, and Beijing is both a large market and a major investor that has been loved by the poorest countries and Central Europe.
But the EU, which sees itself as a champion of human rights, is deeply concerned about the fate of Uighurs. Britain, Canada and the United States have also expressed serious concerns.
UN rights activists and experts say at least 1 million Muslims are being held in camps in the far western region of Xinjiang. Activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilization.
EU sanctions target officials believed to have drafted and enforced the bans in Xinjiang and come after the Dutch parliament prosecuted Canada and the United States in labeling China’s treatment of Uighurs as genocide, which China denies.
Last week, China’s ambassador to the bloc, Zhang Ming, said the sanctions would not change Beijing’s policies, decorating the measures as confrontational and warning of retaliation.
The EU has also called for the release of imprisoned Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014. He was awarded the 2019 European Parliament Human Rights Prize.
Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean
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