China sanctions U.K. for Xinjiang ‘lies,’ continuing more aggressive pushback on Western criticism

Foreign Affairs

After the U.K. joined the EU, U.S., and Canada early this week in coordinated sanctions and condemnation over China’s abuses in Xinjiang, Beijing issued counter-sanctions on nine British individuals and four entities.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

After the coordinated sanctions and condemnation of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang from the EU, U.S., U.K., and Canada early this week, Beijing is continuing to push back forcefully with more counter-sanctions.

  • Saying that the U.K.’s human rights criticism was “based on nothing but lies and disinformation” and “severely undermines China-U.K. relations,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued retaliatory sanctions on nine individuals and four British entities, including China Research Group, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the Uyghur Tribunal, and Essex Court Chambers.
  • Among those affected was Ian Duncan Smith, the leader of the Conservative Party from 2001 to 2003, who said on Twitter that he viewed the decision as a “badge of honor,” and the scholar Dr. Jo Smith Finley of the University of Newcastle. The nine individuals and their families will now be prohibited from entering China, and any assets in China will be frozen.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson today, during which they both “expressed their concern about retaliatory…action” taken by China, per Reuters.

The move follows earlier counter-sanctions on EU institutions and individuals, a whirlwind of whataboutism in which Beijing said that historical atrocities in the West disqualified those countries from criticizing China, a joint statement (in Chinese) with Russia against “politicizing human rights,” and a social media campaign, pumped up by state media, boycotting Sweden’s H&M and American brands Nike and Adidas, among others, for their positions on using Xinjiang cotton amid forced labor allegations.

It may soon be followed by “more countermeasures…against some lawyers in the U.K. who have colluded with overseas anti-China organizations, and Canadian parliament members who led the Xinjiang-related motions,” according to state media tabloid the Global Times.

Separately, Australia is facing continued pressure on its exports following a diplomatic fallout with China last year. China “will impose anti-dumping measures on some Australian wine imports from March 28 for five years, the Ministry of Commerce said” today per Reuters.

  • Australia, along with New Zealand, issued a joint statement this week condemning China’s policies in Xinjiang, but the two nations did not issue sanctions, reportedly because they “lack Magnitsky-style laws.”
  • Australia’s ambassador to Beijing reportedly described China as “vindictive” to a China-Australia business group yesterday, the AP reports.

In the U.S., Chinese ambassador Cuī Tiānkǎi 崔天凯 appeared on CNN yesterday, primarily to rebut President Biden’s claim that China has a “goal” to become “the most powerful country in the world.”

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