A concerted push by European and likeminded partners to coordinate responses to China – including the imposition of sanctions for human rights abuses – has elicited strong Chinese backlash.
On 22 March, the EU Foreign Affairs Council sanctioned four Chinese officials and a section of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau for human rights abuses in Xinjiang under the EU’s global human rights sanctions regime. This move was coordinated with the US, the UK and Canada –Washington, London and Ottawa imposed similar sanctions shortly after the EU – marking the first coordinated Western action against Beijing since President Joe Biden took office in the US.
The EU has long tried to avoid confrontation with Beijing and to stress the cooperative elements of its relationship with China, although its position has shifted in recent years. The EU’s sanctions on four Chinese officials were carefully calibrated – for example, it didn’t blacklist Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, the top official in the region (read more about Chen in the profile below). But it was the first time since the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 that the EU resorted to this tool.