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US, EU, Britain, Canada Impose Sanctions on Chinese Officials Over Uyghurs

Protesters hold signs as they gather during a rally for Uyghur Freedom in New York, March 22, 2021.
Protesters hold signs as they gather during a rally for Uyghur Freedom in New York, March 22, 2021.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on several Chinese officials for human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghur minority in China's Xinjiang province, prompting retaliation from China.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. sanctions were taken in solidary with U.S. allies.

"A united transatlantic response sends a strong signal to those who violate or abuse international human rights, and we will take further actions in coordination with like-minded partners," Blinken said in a statement Monday.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Monday it was sanctioning two Chinese officials — Wang Junzheng, former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

The EU and Britain sanctioned those same officials, along with two others — Wang Mingshan, a member of the Communist Party's standing committee in Xinjiang, and Zhu Hailun, former head of China's Xinjiang region.

China's Foreign Ministry responded immediately after the first sanctions were announced, denouncing them as "based on nothing but lies and disinformation."

China then announced its own sanctions against 10 European individuals and four institutions, saying they had "maliciously spread lies and disinformation." Those sanctioned included five members of the European Parliament.

The EU sanctions are the first significant economic penalties it has placed on China since 1989, when Beijing was cited for its violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

The EU accused Chen of being responsible for "arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief," according to its Official Journal.

The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau was also sanctioned by Britain and the European Union.

All 27 EU governments agreed to the sanctions.

Canada's foreign ministry said: "Mounting evidence points to systemic, state-led human rights violations by Chinese authorities."

Separately Monday, Blinken along with the foreign ministers of four countries — Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — released a joint statement that said the evidence of China's abuses in Xinjiang, "including from the Chinese Government's own documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness testimony is overwhelming."

"We will continue to stand together to shine a spotlight on China's human rights violations," they said.

Human rights advocates say about 1 million Uyghurs are being held in camps. Some accuse Beijing of torture, forced sterilization and forced labor.

China maintains its actions in Xinjiang are to root out Islamic extremism.

Zhang Ming, China's ambassador to the EU, said last week that sanctions would not impact Beijing's policies and warned of retaliation.

"We want dialogue, not confrontation. We ask the EU side to think twice. If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down, as we have no options other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people in our country," he said.