03/23/2021, 15.42
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Xinjiang sanctions war: Beijing wants to ‘intimidate people in Europe’

by Emanuele Scimia

Reinhard Bütikofer, one of the EU lawmakers sanctioned yesterday by China, warns against this kind of actions by Beijing. The EU has targeted four senior officials and a government entity for cracking down on the Uyghurs. The Chinese responded with counter-sanctions. EU, US, UK and Canada have coordinated their anti-China move.

Brussels (AsiaNews) – China has decided to sanction ten European officials in response to the European Union's punitive measures over human rights violation in Xinjiang, the first the EU has imposed on the China  since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.

“The Chinese leadership is apparently no longer satisfied with suppressing freedom of expression only in the People's Republic, including Hong Kong, but now also wants to intimidate people in Europe from openly criticising the brutal crimes against humanity in China,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, head of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with China and one of the people targeted by China, speaking to AsiaNews.

Yesterday, EU foreign ministers decided to freeze assets held in Europe by four senior officials and a government entity in Xinjiang, namely Zhu Hailun, Wang Junzheng, Wang Mingshan, Chen Mingguo,  and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.

They are accused of cracking down Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking and Muslim groups. As a result, the people involved are also banned from entering the EU.

According to expert data, confirmed by the United Nations, Chinese authorities hold or held more than a million Muslims in concentration camps in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, which Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz call East Turkestan.

Recent media reports have also highlighted the existence of labour camps in this region, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are said to be forced to work, especially in cotton fields.

According to some researchers, the Chinese government is also conducting a campaign of forced sterilisations to control the growth of the Uyghur population.

The Chinese deny all accusations, claiming that the camps in Xinjiang are vocational centres involved in projects designed to reduce poverty and fight terrorism and separatism. According to China's Foreign Ministry, the EU's decision is based on falsehoods and misinformation.

Beijing's sanctions target five Members of the European Parliament, three other European political leaders and two researchers, including Adrian Zenz, who was among the first to document humanitarian abuses in Xinjiang.

Chinese sanctions also target the EU Council's Political and Security Committee, the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights, the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies, and a Danish foundation created by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO Secretary General.

European Parliament President David Sassoli has pledged to respond to Chinese sanctions, but has not specified what actual actions the European Union could take. European governments have also condemned China’s sanctions.

For Bütikofer, who tops Beijing’s blacklist, the move will backfire: “As the Chinese proverb says: The stone they have lifted will fall on their own feet.”

The only dissenting voice in the EU comes from Hungary. After agreeing to restrictive measures against China, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called them "harmful" and "pointless."

Immediately after the EU's decision, in what appears to be coordinated action, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada announced their own sanctions against China. Australia and New Zealand have not taken restrictive measures against the Chinese for violations in Xinjiang, but have said they welcome the announcement by their US, UK, EU and Canadian partners and allies.

The sanctions imposed by Western powers are limited however, and are unlikely to change China's position towards Xinjiang. Nevertheless, according to several observers, the most important fact – and worrisome for Beijing – is the Biden administration’s capability of coordinating joint efforts to globally counter China's authoritarian model.

As recently as three months ago, this was by no means a foregone conclusion. in late December, the EU and China reached in principle a major bilateral agreement on investment.

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