The internment camp sized hole in the EU’s China sanctions

This week the European Union finally introduced new sanctions against the Chinese government over their treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. The deployment of new Magnitsky style targeted sanctions against key figures inside the Communist regime came as part of a push by democratic countries to send a message to China that human rights are not optional. The move saw Canada, the United Kingdom and EU all introduce sanctions against the same list of people – following the work of the United States.

The four targets of the new EU sanctions were: Zhu Hailun – former  deputy Communist Party head in Xinjiang, Wang Junzheng – party secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Wang Mingshan – member  of the Xinjiang’s Communist Party standing committee, and Chen Mingguo – director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. Whilst there is little doubt that these are key figures responsible for the genocide – as designated by the United States – there is one key figure missing.

Chen Quanguo is the Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and has been in post since 2016. He is the man responsible for the overall implementation of the Communist Parties strategy towards the indigenous people of Xinjiang. Over the last six years Chen Quanguo has overseen the internment of over two million Uyghur Muslims.

His tenure as Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang has coincided with the harshest measures against the people living there. Inhabitants of Xinjiang are banned from travelling without permission, from meeting in groups of more than three, from attending places of worship, from moving between neighbourhoods with good reason, and live under constant surveillance. Interred Uyghurs have been used as slave labour across the country, including for European companies based in China. Perhaps most insidiously of all forced abortions and sterilisations have become common practice in the region as a means of population control.

This is not Chen Quanguo’s first offence. From 2011 to 2016 he held the same post but in Tibet – where he oversaw the destruction of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Including the controversial claim that they had already found the new Dalai Lama. In this position he also pushed language laws that forced the Sinicization of the formerly independent state which has been occupied since 1950.

His exclusion from the sanctions should have attracted a great deal more attention, than the congratulations that the EU received for sanctioning the others. His role in the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang is undeniable – so much so that the United States sanctioned him in 2020.

There is of course a reason why the European Union has not yet done so, in particular because they want to keep a line of dialogue open for the negotiation of the EU China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. It would be difficult for them to continue to push ahead with the deal – as they have expressed a wish to do so – if at the same time they are sanctioning the regional governors.

Of course, there are increasingly growing calls from many inside the European Parliament and around the EU to scrap the investment agreement altogether. If this were done, then the EU would be able to truly stand up for Human Rights in the region – and sanction the people who are truly responsible.

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