The UK government is bracing for retaliation from China for its decision to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials in response to human rights abuses by Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
The British Ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, was summoned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry to hear “solemn representations” on the sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom for the mass detention of Muslim minorities.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gan said after the meeting that China would take appropriate measures in response, but did not elaborate.
The UK expects retaliatory sanctions imposed by China to be less numerous than those imposed on the EU. No measures are expected to extend to government officials or ministers.
China took immediate action against the EU after its foreign affairs council imposed sanctions on the same four Chinese officials and the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps Public Security Bureau on Monday.
China had warned in advance that the bloc was about to act, so it may have prepared its countermeasures in advance.
On the contrary, it had not been previously warned that the UK would end its resistance to imposing sanctions for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The EU ambassador to China was summoned on Monday. It is the first time that the EU has imposed sanctions on China since 1984.
Britain will hope that a downward spiral in relations can be avoided as the UK government strongly believes that the two sides must cooperate on the climate crisis and trade. The ministers hope that the successful ploy they carried out in parliament to hold China accountable in the high court for the alleged genocide in Xinjiang shows that Downing Street is taking a balanced approach.
The UK has for months resisted imposing sanctions such as travel bans and assets freezes against Chinese officials, but ultimately acted this week in close coordination with the EU, Canada and the US to ensure that the same four Chinese officials were attacked.
The Biden administration, unlike Donald Trump, is making rebuilding neglected diplomatic alliances against China in both the West and the Indo-Pacific the central feature of its foreign policy.
China’s very carefully calibrated countermeasures to the EU covered five members of the European parliament, from four parties believed to be at the forefront of the campaign on human rights abuses in Xinjiang province.
On one level, Chinese stocks have played into the hands of the United States, as it has made the likelihood of the European Parliament ratifying the recently agreed EU-China investment pact much less likely. The Biden administration had signaled before taking office that it wanted to be consulted by the EU before the ratification of an agreement liberalizing the EU’s access to the Chinese economy.
The perceived attack on MEPs’ free speech means it will be easier to gain political support within Europe for a joint US-EU approach on China, something the US Secretary of State wants to relaunch. .
In its selected list of 10 sanctioned EU individuals and entities, China focused on Germany even though its leadership is probably the most willing to continue economic trade.
China imposed sanctions on Green MEP and China expert Reinhard Bütikofer, CDU MEP Michael Gahler, as well as Uighur researcher Adrian Zenz and the prestigious Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics). It is not yet clear if all the staff of the expert group are subject to sanctions, or simply the institution.
The other main target was the human rights committee of the European parliament, but few could understand why China had chosen Björn Jerdén, considered a dispassionate director of the Swedish National Center for China, a newly formed unit of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
Bütikofer described China’s retaliatory sanctions as “a huge strategic mistake.” He said it was unlikely that ratification of the EU-China investment treaty “will ever appear on the European parliament’s agenda as long as the sanctions remain in place.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism