China Responds to International Sanctions Condemning Uyghur Persecution

The EU, US, UK, and Canada launched a “coordinated action” of sanctions against China on Monday, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has since responded in kind. These sanctions blacklisted various Chinese political officials and froze the assets of two Xinjiang companies. The countries called for “China to end its repressive practices against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups” in the region. China has retaliated by imposing similar sanctions on ten EU lawmakers and academics, as well as four EU organisations. These entities cannot enter China or conduct business with it.

This new framework of Western sanctions is spurred by reports of gross human rights abuses against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, which the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has labelled as “genocide and crimes against humanity.” The Chinese government has forced Uyghur people into working camps, calling these camps “vocational training centres.” However, from the limited information gathered by journalists and escaped Uyghurs themselves, they are, in reality, mass detention centres. According to a statement released by government officials from the US, UK, and Canada, China has engaged “severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.” China has consistently denied these reports, calling them blatant lies and attempts to undermine its sovereignty.

Activists and other nations’ government officials have praised the EU and other countries’ actions, with EU lawmakers themselves not phased by China’s response. Dutch politician Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, one of the sanctioned EU officials, said on Twitter, “As long as human rights are being violated, I cannot stay silent. These sanctions prove that China is sensitive to pressure.” Both Australia and New Zealand’s foreign ministers have applauded these sanctions on China. However, neither country has yet to impost their own economic sanctions on the country, citing a lack of specific legislation allowing them to do so.

NGOs and activists are also calling on major companies doing business with China to impose similar restrictions on their trade. A coalition of over 150 international human rights groups sent an open letter to Airbnb, calling on the company to withdraw its sponsorship of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Airbnb markets itself as a socially responsible corporation, yet the letter said it is “glossing over China’s horrifying human rights record.” Worryingly, reports have come out of major companies benefitting from forced Uyghur labour in their supply chains, including the likes of Nike and Apple.

To avoid conflict and retaliatory action against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the international community needs to maintain the economic pressure on China to discourage any further abuse. Companies benefitting from forced labour need to stop immediately, and any corporation that tries to claim it is socially responsible needs to back up those words with action.