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EU agrees China sanctions over Uighur crackdown

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Members of Women Muslim Uighur minority hold placards and flags of east Turkestan as they demonstrate to ask for news of their relatives and to express their concern about the ratification of an extradition treaty between China and Turkey, near China consulate in Istanbul on March 8, 2021 during the International Women Day. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

EU member states have agreed to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials and one state-owned entity over Beijing’s crackdown on the Uighur minority, European diplomats said Wednesday.

Ambassadors from the 27 countries gave the green light for the measures as part of a package of human rights sanctions that will also see individuals in Russia, North Korea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Libya targeted, diplomats said.

The sanctions — set to hit around a dozen people in total with asset freezes and visa bans — have to be formally confirmed by EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday.

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China has already reacted angrily to the prospect of punishment over its actions in the western Xinjiang region.

“Sanctions based on lies could be interpreted as deliberately undermining China’s security and development interests,” Zhang Ming, Beijing’s ambassador to the EU, said on Tuesday.

“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.”

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.

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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.

The EU faces a delicate balancing act over 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 President Joe Biden to form a united front against Beijing.

Washington on Wednesday added 24 more senior Chinese officials to its blacklist over Beijing’s clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong.

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The EU is expanding its new global human rights sanctions regime after launching it this month with sanctions on four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Diplomats said the fresh sanctions on Russia are set to target individuals behind abuses in the country’s Chechnya region, which is ruled with an iron-fist by Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov.

Сritics accuse Kadyrov, 44, of creating a fiefdom built on widespread rights abuses and amassing vast personal wealth.

Authorities in the conservative Muslim region have also come under fire in recent years from rights groups over the alleged jailing and torturing of gay men in secret prisons.

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