China calls Xinjiang repression ‘lies’ amid sanctions blitz

Coordinated crackdown by major western democracies triggers Beijing backlash

China faces a growing backlash against the oppression of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Earlier this week, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada launched a coordinated attack on Beijing after imposing sanctions on high-level Chinese officials for human rights violations.

In response, President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party imposed punitive measures on the EU for “maliciously spreading lies and false” information.

“Xinjiang-related issues are not about the treatment of the Uyghurs but about lies and truth. It’s nothing short of absurdity that the US side bases its accusations against China on lies and rumors,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular media briefing.

The facts:

  • Human rights groups and the United Nations have expressed grave concerns.
  • They point to allegations of torture, forced labor and sexual abuse of nearly 1.4 million Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang internment camps. 
  • Beijing has described the camps as “reeducation centers.”
  • The EU, the US, the UK and Canada have taken concerted action against China for human rights violations.
  • This is part of US President Joe Biden’s move to put together a coalition of allies.
  • The plan is to combat Beijing’s disregard for ethnic minorities and the clampdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
  • On Monday, the EU imposed travel bans and froze the assets of Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.
  • Chinese officials Wang Mingshan, Wang Junzheng and the former head of the Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun, suffered the same fate.
  • The UK and Canada imposed similar sanctions just hours later.
  • In response, China imposed sanctions on 10 European Union citizens.
  • They included five members of the EU parliament.

Smear campaign: “The few Western forces smearing and slandering China should know that the era of wantonly interfering in China’s internal affairs with made-up stories or fabricated lies has ended, never to return. Those retrogressive moves cannot stop China’s tide of historical development,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.

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Lies, lies, and more damned lies: “There are systemic lies in the West about China’s Xinjiang and Hong Kong affairs. Political prejudice and moral arrogance are the hidden hands behind those lies,” Global Times, owned by the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, The People’s Daily, said in an editorial.

Crimes against humanity: “Amid growing international condemnation, [China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement ahead of discussions with EU and NATO ministers in Brussels this week.

Pressure point: “The sanctions have been adopted, they are already published, there is no way [for China to] put pressure [on the EU]. The United States and the United Kingdom have immediately, as agreed, published their own sanctions [in] perfect coordination,” Josep Borrell, the top diplomat at the 27-nation EU, said at a media briefing.

Delve deeper: The European Union’s decision could have serious consequences for trade relations between the bloc and Beijing. Two-way trade was worth US$700 billion in 2020. Last year, the EU and China agreed on a ground-breaking investment deal. But the accord has yet to be ratified by the EU parliament and that is looking increasingly unlikely. 

Pushback: “Chinese ultra-nationalists want to define the EU’s China policy for us. Thanks, but no thanks,” Reinhard Bitikofer, a prominent  German MEP, said in a Twitter post, adding later that ratification of the deal “is very much in question.”

China Factor comment: Beijing has tried to spin its oppressive policies by accusing major western democracies of “blackmail.” But when you strip away the usual Party propaganda, Beijing looks to be boxed in a corner after believing that trade would trump human rights. The red tide might be slowly turning.