EU issues first sanctions on China since 1989 over treatment of Uyghurs

Foreign Affairs

Today, the European Union issued its first sanctions on China since 1989, condemning Beijing’s abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Canada, Britain, and the U.S. also issued new Xinjiang-focused sanctions. Beijing immediately retaliated against the EU with sanctions of its own.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Today, as had been expected, the European Union put in place its first sanctions on China since 1989: Four individuals and one entity associated with human rights abuses in Xinjiang are now subject to asset freezes and travel bans in the EU.

  • Those sanctioned are “Chén Míngguó 陈明国, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau…senior Chinese officials Wáng Míngshān 王明山 and Wáng Jūnzhèng 王君正…the former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, Zhū Hǎilún 朱海仑…and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps [XPCC] Public Security Bureau,” per Reuters.
  • They likely don’t have interests in European business anyway, so the move is largely symbolic.
  • But Europe’s willingness to register its objection to Beijing, using a tool not employed in this way since a 1989 arms embargo, has “shocked” Chinese diplomats, according to Politico. Less than three months ago, Brussels and Beijing were celebrating the rapid signing of an investment deal.

Three other governments also announced Xinjiang-related sanctions on China today — the U.S. extended its Treasury Department blacklist to Chen Mingguo and Wang Junzheng, and Canada and the U.K. both sanctioned the same four individuals and one entity punished by the EU.

  • These countries additionally published a joint statement that called for “China to end its repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbitrarily detained.”
  • The U.S. already implemented much harsher sanctions on China related to Xinjiang last year: Chén Quánguó 陈全国, the Party Secretary of the whole Xinjiang government, was singled out by the U.S., and the entirety of the XPCC, not just its Public Security Bureau, was blacklisted a few weeks later.

Beijing’s response, and what’s next

Beijing responded immediately to the EU sanctions with measures of its own (English, Chinese) against European individuals and organizations from eight different countries.

Because the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) remains unratified in the European parliament, the Chinese countermeasures “will surely affect” the chances of the deal being put into effect, says SCMP Europe correspondent Finbarr Bermingham.

Another factor in the coming weeks: After the Canadian and Dutch parliaments passed measures last month condemning China’s treatment of Uyghurs as “genocide,” the Australian parliament is now debating a similar motion.