By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — China is deeply concerned over the EU’s likely imposition of human rights sanctions on Chinese officials and its ambassador in Brussels warned the bloc on Tuesday (16 March) to “think twice” before engaging in confrontation, because China “will not back down”.
“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,” Chinese Ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, warned in an online think tank event.
The EU is set to hit four Chinese officials and one entity with travel bans and asset freezes next Monday (22 March) over violations of Uyghur rights in Xinjiang and reform of the electoral system in Hong Kong, according to EU diplomats.
According to human rights organisations, at least one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are imprisoned in hundreds of detention camps in Xinjiang, 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.
“Countries like the US, the UK and France have established deradicalization centres or correction centres – China’s measures are not entirely different from theirs,” Zhang said, suggesting that they were effective in fighting terrorism.
“The past four years have not seen a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang,” the Chinese diplomat added. “People feel much safer, they can sleep tight at night.”
The EU is also expected to impose sanctions against those responsible for human rights abuses in half a dozen countries around the world early next week when the measures will be submitted for approval to EU27 foreign ministers.
Ministers will meet to prepare for a European summit on 25-26 March where EU leaders are expected to decide on their strategy towards China.
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 under a new sanctions regime created in December, the so-called EU Magnitsky Act, intended to punish serious human rights violations around the world.
The EU first used the human rights regime in early March in the case of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Speaking about the EU’s planned sanctions, Ambassador Zhang said: “If some insist on confrontation, we will not give in”.
“It is the responsibility of the Chinese government to ensure the safety and well-being of the people of China,” he said and added: “We are against interference in others’ internal affairs, against sanctions and against groundless accusations”.
“We ask the European side to think twice. If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down, because we have no choice but to assume our responsibilities towards the people of our country, ” the Chinese diplomat added.
The EU faces a delicate balancing act over its relations with China as it treats Beijing as a ‘systemic rival’ but also a potential economic partner.
Late last year, Brussels sealed a major investment pact with China after seven years of negotiations but is under pressure from the administration of new US president Joe Biden to form a united front against Beijing.
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the European Parliament, whose lawmakers are divided over labour and human rights issues and EU sources believe the process could be drawn out until early 2022.