The European Union is planning to hit China with sanctions over Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur minority, which has been called genocide.
The travel bans and asset freezes on four people and one entity will be the EU’s first human rights sanctions on China since the Tiananmen Square uprising was crushed in 1989.
Senior officials in Brussels have agreed to use the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime to target those responsible for violations against the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The decision will need to be formally approved, which is expected to happen at an EU foreign affairs ministers’ meeting in March. The names of the officials will not be released until then.
It will be the second time Brussels has used the “EU Magnitsky Act” to hit human rights abusers after it was used for the first time on March 2 against Russian officials over the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
An EU spokesperson refused to comment on the new sanctions but said that the sanctions over Mr Navalny’s imprisonment “were the first listings under the EU’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime but will not be the last.”
Activists called on the UK to impose its own human rights sanctions on Beijing.
Benedict Rogers, the chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, said the EU move left “no excuse” for Britain to not apply its own measures.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, told the UN Human Rights Council in February that Uighurs were facing abuses on “an industrial scale”.
The EU sanctions are likely to be applied, despite differing views in the bloc over how to confront China, which Brussels terms a “competitor, partner and systemic rival”.
While wanting to confront China over human rights abuses, Brussels is also seeking to ratify an investment accord with Beijing.
The sanctions targeted at individuals will not harm the Chinese economy as other sanctions can do.
They will be announced as part of a package of sanctions targeting 11 human rights abusers and four entities in China, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Russia, and South Sudan, the EU Observer website reported. The new Russian sanctions are linked to abuses in Chechnya.
On Thursday night, the EU criticised the electoral reform in Hong Kong, which reduces the amount of elected representatives in the Hong Kong Legislative Council.
The EU’s chief diplomat said the move would have a “significant impact on democratic accountability and political pluralism”.
Josep Borrell said it was a violation of China’s international commitments and warned the EU would “consider taking additional steps”.