China State Media Hails 'Swift Counterattack' to Sanctions Over Uyghurs

A prominent Communist Party newspaper hailed China's retaliatory sanctions against the European Union (EU) after the bloc took its first meaningful measures against Beijing since the Tiananmen Square Massacre more than 30 years ago.

In an unsigned editorial on Tuesday, state-owned tabloid Global Times called the Chinese countermeasures "justified and timely."

"Through a swift counterattack, China manifested that any act that violates its interests or interferes in its internal affairs will be resolutely pushed back," the newspaper wrote. "We have the will and tools to retaliate."

The EU sanctioned four individuals linked to Beijing's policies in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, where United Nations rights experts say at least 1 million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities have been detained against their will or subjected to forced labor.

Besides asset freezes, the largely symbolic measures will also ban Zhu Hailun, Wang Junzheng, Wang Mingshan, and Chen Mingguo from traveling to countries in the bloc.

Chen, the director of public security in Xinjiang, is accused of "arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uyghurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief," the EU's announcement said.

The move on Monday came as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada coordinated similar punitive actions aimed at Chinese officials responsible for the ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The Magnitsky sanctions announced by the Treasury Department—also hitting Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo—were the Biden administration's first actions against Chinese policies since the tense talks in Alaska last week.

"Chinese authorities will continue to face consequences as long as atrocities occur in Xinjiang," said Andrea Gacki, head of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

But the EU's sanctions were met with an almost immediate tit-for-tat response from Beijing, which announced its own bans on 10 European lawmakers and four entities, including two parliamentary bodies and two think tanks.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has been at the forefront of the Chinese government's efforts to deny the alleged atrocities, said the European sanctions were based on "lies and disinformation."

Members of European Parliament banned from traveling to or doing business in China, Hong Kong and Macau include legislators from Germany, France, Slovakia and Bulgaria, while Dutch, Belgian and Lithuanian parliamentarians complete the list of eight politicians.

Adrian Zenz, whose research into Beijing's policies in Xinjiang have made him a high-profile target for the Chinese government and its media outlets, is one of two scholars on the blacklist.

The EU's synchronized effort with Western democracies was also acknowledged by the Communist Party newspaper, which criticized German MEP Reinhard Butikofer in a separate editorial.

The Chinese leadership has let me know that I will not be allowed to visit the mainland, Hong Kong or Macao. But then there is Taiwan. :-)

— Reinhard Bütikofer (@bueti) March 22, 2021

Butikofer, co-chair of the European Parliament's group responsible for relations with Beijing, tweeted in response to being top of China's sanction list: "Chinese ultra-nationalists want to define the EU's China policy for us. Thanks, but no thanks.

"And by the way, dear Chinese friends, you know that Hungary first voted for the sanctions and then chose to criticize them publicly. Nice friends you have."

The EU's last significant measures against China came in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.

In the final weeks of the Trump administration, leaders in Brussels and Beijing struck an investment deal to give EU businesses more access to the Chinese market.

The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which U.S. officials at the time reportedly opposed, is yet to be ratified by the European Parliament and may face significant obstacles given this week's developments.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who sat down with senior Chinese diplomats in Anchorage last week, is in Brussels for meetings with EU and NATO leaders.

European Union Flags Fly in Brussels
File photo: European Union flags fly in front of the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images