The United States and its allies in Canada, Britain and the European Union on Monday announced sanctions on several Chinese officials alleged to have links to what U.S. officials say is a genocidal campaign against Uyghur Muslims.
The international, coordinated sanctions, first reported by POLITICO, drew condemnation and some immediate retaliatory sanctions from Beijing. The moves offered a glimpse into the growing divide between China and the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies, which, like Washington, are increasingly wary of China’s global ambitions and internal repression.
The sanctions are an opportunity for the Biden administration to justify its emphasis on working with allies, one major aspect of its foreign policy that it says distinguishes it from the administration of former President Donald Trump. The sanctions also come after a tense high-level meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials in Alaska.
“Amid growing international condemnation, the [People’s Republic of China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in the Xinjiang region, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The United States reiterates its calls on the PRC to bring an end to the repression of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.“
Blinken, who is in Europe this week visiting counterparts, noted that the U.K., Canada and the EU were also imposing various sanctions. “These actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights and shining a light on those in the PRC government and [Chinese Communist Party] responsible for these atrocities,“ Blinken said.
The U.S. sanctions targeted two individuals: Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the XPCC is a paramilitary organization that “enhances internal control over the region by advancing China’s vision of economic development in [Xinjiang] that emphasizes subordination to central planning and resource extraction.“
Treasury also added that “Since at least late 2016, repressive tactics have been used by the XPSB against the Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities in the region, including mass detentions and surveillance.“
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Both the XPSB and the XPCC have already been sanctioned by the United States. Wang and Chen are being sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, which means assets they may have in the U.S. are frozen and Americans cannot do business with them.
It’s hard to say exactly how much financial damage the new sanctions will do, but given the coordination with Europe, Britain and Canada, it packs a symbolic punch.
The EU on Monday morning approved sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in the internment of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs. In response, the Chinese government sanctioned 10 individuals and four entities in Europe that it argues “severely harm China’s sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”
The EU sanctions were believed to be the first from the bloc to target China on human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
The U.K. imposed sanctions on four individuals and one entity, including the two individuals sanctions by the United States.
Canada, meanwhile, announced it is imposing sanctions on the same four individuals and one entity. The Canadian sanctions come at an unusually sensitive time: China has put on trial two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on espionage charges. The men‘s supporters say they have been detained in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecom executive.
Based on the various statements issued, it appeared that the United States had earlier sanctioned some of the people and entities its allies were targeting Monday.
Blinken was among the U.S. officials who met with top Chinese officials in Anchorage last week. The meeting began with harsh words from both sides, with Blinken warning the Chinese that the U.S. did not see its human rights abuses in places like Xinjiang as merely internal matters but rather as threats to the rules-based international order.
Shortly before the Alaska meeting, the United States announced a series of sanctions on 24 officialsit linked to China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. Chinese officials pointed to those sanctions as setting a bad tone for the Alaska meeting, which was the first high-level gathering between Chinese diplomats and aides to U.S. President Joe Biden.