US pressure and spiraling relations with Beijing, lately focused heavily on human rights-related complaints and the crackdown particularly on China's ethnic Muslim community which the Trump administration had previously dubbed "genocide", are now for the first time manifesting in a very definitive way in Europe.
"The European Union agreed on Wednesday to blacklist Chinese officials for human rights abuses, two diplomats said, the first sanctions against Beijing since an EU arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown," Reuters reports.
These first EU sanctions in over three decades stem from widespread reports of 'systematic' human rights abuses in the northwest Xinjiang region, where millions of Muslim Uighurs are said to be confined to Communist 'reeducation' and labor camps.
It's to include travel bans and asset freezes on at least four Chinese individuals and one entity, Reuters notes; however, the names aren't expected to be made public until formal approval by EU foreign ministers on March 22.
EU diplomats have confirmed the sanctions preparations to Reuters, which writes further:
The 1989 EU arms embargo on China, its second-largest trade partner, is still in place.
"Restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses adopted," one EU diplomat said.
Shortly after the report, the Chinese mission to the EU posted a statement expressing anger over the move, calling it "confrontational".
"Sanctions are confrontational," the Twitter statement said. "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 other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people."
Amb. Zhang on EU's possible sanctions: Sanctions are confrontational. 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 other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people. pic.twitter.com/durTRjhXQj— Mission of China (@ChinaEUMission) March 17, 2021
Canada meanwhile has been most vocal and out front on the Uighur issue, with many MPs attempting to urge EU countries and others to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
This dramatic proposal to sit out the games as a human rights "message" to China has been met with coolness in Europe. Thus this sanctions measure appears an attempt at 'doing something' but without going as far as some Canadian and British lawmakers are pushing for.
All of this further comes as EU officials are refusing China's invitations to investigate the Uighur camps first hand: "China denies any human rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism," Reuters writes.
"Beijing has on numerous occasions invited EU ambassadors to Xinjiang but envoys say they cannot visit under the strict conditions and monitoring set by Chinese authorities."