EU sanctions China over mass internment camps

UN researchers estimate a million Uighurs are held in camps

Watchtowers on what is believed to be a  camp where  Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Photograph: GREG BAKER/AFP/via Getty

Watchtowers on what is believed to be a camp where Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Photograph: GREG BAKER/AFP/via Getty

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The European Union has imposed its first sanctions on Beijing in three decades, targeting four Chinese officials, including a top security director, for human rights abuses and the systematic oppression of the Muslim Uighur minority.

The move, which was accompanied by similar action by Britain, Canada and the United States, provoked retaliatory sanctions by Beijing on Europeans who have been outspoken on the issue, including members of the European Parliament and national politicians.

It marked a hardening of European policy towards China which has long been divided over how to balance the economic importance of the Asian power with concerns over the tyranny of its regime.

The officials targeted are accused of a role in mass detentions and prison camps that activists say are the site of forced labour, torture and female sterilisation.

In the sanctions – the first since the EU arms embargo in response to the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 – the bloc accused Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang public security bureau, of “serious human rights violations”.

These included “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uighurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief”.

Researchers from the United Nations estimate one million Uighurs are held in camps that Beijing defends as necessary to provide vocational training and combat extremism. 

Condemnation

In a statement, the British government said, “Acting together sends the clearest possible signal that the international community is united in its condemnation of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and the need for Beijing to end its discriminatory and oppressive practices in the region”.

China retaliated with sanctions against 10 European politicians and academics who have described the treatment of the Uighur people as genocide, including several members of the European Parliament. 

“As long as China commits genocide on the Uighurs, I will not remain silent,” tweeted Dutch lawmaker Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, who was put on China’s sanctions list. 

“These sanctions are proof that China is susceptible to outside pressure. I hope my European colleagues will seize this moment to speak out as well.”

The Dutch government summoned the Chinese ambassador to The Hague in the wake of the retaliatory sanctions.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs urged the EU to “correct its mistake” and not to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the US and had cultivated relationships with smaller members of the bloc. The two sides reached an investment agreement earlier this year.

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