The EU Foreign Affairs Council released a list of individuals and entities sanctioned under EU global human rights sanctions regime on March 22. The list included four PRC and CCP officials who oversee Xinjiang-related policies and a section of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau that manages detention centers in the province. The move was coordinated with Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, who all made similar announcements.
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- Beijing responded with retaliatory sanctions on the same day targeting ten individuals (five MEPs, Dutch, Belgian, and Lithuanian MPs and two researchers) and four entities (The Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, MERICS and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark). In the sanction’s announcement, China described the retaliation as a response to the EU’s alleged interference in China’s internal affairs on basis of “nothing but lies and disinformation.”
- Echoing the messaging of the Chinese MFA, the Global Times released a series of publications that praised China’s “swift counterattack” to the EU’s “arrogance” and “weaponizing human rights” while urging the bloc to reverse its course.
- China’s retaliation was criticized by the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, and multiple EU capitals – including German and French MFAs and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Conversely, the Hungarian MFA called the EU’s sanctions on China “pointless, self-aggrandizing and harmful.” Multiple Chinese Ambassadors were summoned by MFAs of their host countries to provide explanations regarding the retaliatory sanctions.
- The MEPs involved in deliberations over the potential ratification of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) cancelled a meeting scheduled for March 23. Major political groupings at the European Parliament such as S&D or Renew Europe signaled that any progress on potential ratification of CAI would require China lifting its sanctions. The European People’s Party, the EU’s largest political grouping, would like discussions on CAI to continue. They view the issue as separate from the tensions over human rights sanctions.
China’s retaliation appears to have two key motivations. The first one is linked to China’s self-perception, the pride of a re-emerging power and the related need to project an image of both domestic and international might. Another goal is to prevent the European stakeholders from developing a more assertive and united China policy by dividing them over the perceived costs of angering Beijing. China especially wants to avoid a united European stance that would involve deep cooperation with like-minded partners such as the United States or Japan.
The fact that Beijing decided to move forward with the retaliation just a day before the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, visited Brussels shows that it was confident of its position. The outcome of the European Council taking place on March 25-26 that will include a review of the EU-China Strategic Outlook’s Action Plan will be an initial indicator of the EU's path forward, especially under the new circumstances.