The European Union Monday approved sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in running internment camps for hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in the region of Xinjiang.
The list conspicuously avoided targeting the top Communist Party boss in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, who was hit by U.S. measures last year.
In its first bid to punish China on human rights grounds since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the EU is expected to be joined by the U.K. and potentially other countries, diplomats say, as part of wider international coordination to confront China’s abuses against its ethnic and religious minorities.
China has already threatened to retaliate against the sanctions, with the ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming warning last week: “If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down.” The state-run Global Times newspaper reported that China would target “some EU institutions that have been spearheading accusations against China’s Xinjiang policies” as well as “some individuals in EU countries who have behaved badly.”
The four names on the EU’s list include Zhu Hailun, former deputy Communist Party head in Xinjiang, and Wang Junzheng, party secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
Wang Mingshan, member of the Xinjiang’s Communist Party standing committee, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (PSB) are also targeted.
According to the EU, the listed individuals and entities will be subject to an asset freeze in the EU, as well as a travel ban in Europe. It’s also illegal for EU individuals and entities to make funds available to those listed.
The PSB itself is also sanctioned as an entity.
President Xi Jinping last year hailed the country’s Xinjiang policy as “a success,” adding that the region “is enjoying a favorable setting of social stability.”
However, governments around the world have raised concern over the mistreatment of the mostly Muslim population, with the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet still being refused access to visit the area.
Ryan Heath contributed reporting.