EU set to renew sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged Xinjiang abuses

EU set to renew sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged Xinjiang abuses

The European Union is preparing to renew its sanctions over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region. Photo: AFP

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EU set to renew sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged Xinjiang abuses
Adoption of the renewal is expected in early December after member states’ ambassadors give the go-ahead ‘without discussion’
If adopted, the measures against four officials and one entity will roll over in March, one year after they came into force
Topic | China-EU relations
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Finbarr Bermingham
Finbarr Bermingham

Published: 7:39pm, 24 Nov, 2021

The European Union is set to renew sanctions on Chinese officials, after the legislative process cleared an important hurdle on Wednesday morning in Brussels. The renewal is now expected to be approved on December 6 and 7 at a meeting of employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs ministers from the EU’s 27 member states.

Wednesday’s motion was approved “without discussion” by the EU’s powerful Coreper II body, composed of member states’ ambassadors to the EU, according to multiple officials familiar with the matter. Normally when a point is adopted by Coreper without discussion, there is “no reason” for the European Council to hold a debate before adopting.

Nor is it seen as important which part of the Council makes the final decision on what is essentially a procedural matter. Diplomats involved in the proceedings had previously said there was little chance of any change in the sanctions given that the situation in Xinjiang had not materially changed. The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) is ordinarily tasked with increasing employment levels and improving living and working conditions in the EU.

But it is now set to take the final call on rolling over the sanctions on Chinese officials that helped usher in a temporary collapse in EU-China relations earlier this year.
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This would mean the sanctions will be rolled over on March 22, one year after they first came into force.
The EU joined a multilateral sanctioning blitz with Britain, Canada and the United States, targeting Chinese officials alleged to have been implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the far western Chinese province where Beijing is accused of detaining a million Uygurs and other ethnic minorities in re-education camps. Beijing says the camps are vocational training centres and part of efforts to combat terrorism.

Brussels sanctioned four officials and one entity in Xinjiang – the bloc’s first sanctions targeting Chinese officials since the aftermath of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. China hit back almost immediately, imposing sanctions on 10 European individuals and four entities, including diplomats, officials, academics and politicians.
The four Chinese officials targeted were Zhu Hailun, a former secretary of Xinjiang’s political and legal affairs committee; Wang Junzheng, Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps; Wang Mingshan, a member of the party standing committee in Xinjiang; and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

The entity sanctioned was the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which the EU said was “responsible for serious human rights violations in China, in particular large-scale arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uygurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities”. At a webinar last week, China’s ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming refused to be drawn on whether Beijing would retaliate if the sanctions were rolled over. Nor would he be pushed on whether China’s retaliatory sanctions would be removed if it would help restore the bilateral investment deal with the EU, which was stalled by the European Parliament over Beijing’s sanctions on MEPs. Zhang said the “ball was in Brussels’ court” on both fronts.

The European Parliament has called for further names to be added to the sanctions list, including Chen Quanguo, Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, but that does not appear to be in the works. In Britain, sanctions must be reviewed every three years under the terms of the sanctions act, although the Foreign Office reports annually to Parliament on all sanctions regulations. These consultations are expected to happen before the end of the year, according to a source familiar with the process. The EU’s renewal comes at a sensitive time for its relations with China. The bloc is attempting to organise a summit with Beijing, although a date has not yet been set.

While it was previously thought to be “the intention” that the summit take place on a 27+1 basis, involving all the EU member states, an EU official this week said the summit is expected to take place in the “traditional manner”. This would involve European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on the EU side. The EU is targeting talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, although Premier Li Keqiang is also likely to be involved.

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