The Europeans on Monday sanctioned China for the first time for the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, and Beijing immediately retaliated with sanctions against a dozen European figures.
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EU foreign ministers have approved the inclusion of four leaders and one entity from China’s Xinjiang region on the sanctions list for human rights violations established in December 2020.
“This new device was used in February against Russia for the Navalny affair,” explained the head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves le Drian on his arrival for a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels.
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European sanctions consist of a ban on travel to the EU and a freeze on assets held in the European Union.
Beijing responded by sanctioning ten European personalities, including several elected members of the European Parliament, accused “of seriously undermining the sovereignty and interests of China and of spreading lies and disinformation”.
Europeans and their families will be banned from staying in China, Hong Kong and Macao.
The measure also concerns the Political and Security Committee, a body bringing together the ambassadors of the Member States in Brussels which prepared the sanctions.
The Dutch government summoned the Chinese ambassador to the Netherlands on Monday to protest against the measure.
Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès denounced the Chinese decision and announced consultations with her European counterparts.
“It’s terrible. It’s cold in the back to see that a dictatorial regime can attack a parliament and its family in this way, ”one of the sanctioned personalities, Belgian MP Samuel Cogolati, told AFP.
“These intimidations, these threats, will not stop us, on the contrary! They strengthen our determination to fight for democracy in Hong Kong, Tibet or Xinjiang where we see that concentration camps are developing to lock up the Uyghurs, ”he said.
“It is time to break a European silence that has lasted too long, a silence that has become complicit over time,” he concluded.
“My legion of honor”
French MEP Raphaël Glucksmann (Renew-liberal), who is committed to the defense of the Uyghurs, for his part said he was flattered by the decision of the Chinese authorities.
“I learn that I am targeted by Chinese sanctions, banished from Chinese territory (as well as all my family!) And forbidden from any contact with official institutions and Chinese companies in my defense of the Uyghur people: it is my legion of ‘honor,’ he said in a message on his twitter account.
“China’s escalating response to EU human rights sanctions is ludicrous. China manages to turn the four main political groups of the European Parliament against it in a single action, ”commented another sanctioned, German Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer.
“Beijing can’t seriously believe it is doing itself a favor. It’s like the Chinese saying goes: the stone they lifted will fall on their feet, ”he warned.
“This naturally makes the dialogue with the representatives of the People’s Republic more difficult and heavy, which I find regrettable,” said his compatriot, Michael Gahler, elected European from the CDU, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I suspect that my chairmanship of the Taiwan Friendship Groups in the European Parliament played a certain role in the decision taken in Beijing,” he said.
Beijing had warned the Europeans. “I want to stress that the sanctions are a showdown. Sanctions based on lies could be interpreted as a deliberate attack on China’s security and development, ”China’s ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, warned last week.
“We want, we need, we want dialogue and not confrontation,” he assured.