China envoy warns EU off Xinjiang sanctions

By: AFP      Published: 06:45 PM, 16 Mar, 2021
China envoy warns EU off Xinjiang sanctions

China's ambassador to the EU on Tuesday warned against imposing sanctions on Beijing over its actions in the Xinjiang region, as the bloc decides how to respond to the crackdown on the Uighur minority.

"I want to emphasise that sanctions are confrontation. Sanctions based on lies could be interpreted as deliberately undermining China's security and development interests," ambassador Zhang Ming said in a videoconference with the Brussels-based European Policy Centre think tank.

"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 but fulfilling our responsibilities to people of our country."

EU member states are currently drawing up plans to expand the bloc's global human rights sanctions regime after launching it this month with sanctions on four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

European diplomats say the bloc's 27 foreign ministers are expected to agree at a meeting on Monday to add a small number of individuals or entities in China to the blacklist over the treatment of the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. 

Officials in other countries including Russia, North Korea and Eritrea are also expected to be hit with asset freezes and visa bans over alleged human rights abuses. 

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in the northwestern region, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

China has strongly denied allegations of forced labour involving Uighurs in Xinjiang and says training programs, work schemes and better education have helped stamp out extremism in the region.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday that he expected there to be agreement among the 27 member states on new sanctions next week. 

"We have created a way to punish violations with the human rights sanctions regime ... we are currently working on a global approach," Maas said. 

"It will not only be about China, but also about many other states and violations."

The EU faces a delicate balancing act over its relations with China as it treats Beijing as a rival and also a potential economic partner.

Brussels late last year sealed a major investment pact with China after seven years of negotiations, but is under pressure from the administration of new US leader Joe Biden to form a united front against Beijing.