China’s retaliation against European and British lawmakers who sanctioned the communist regime for its treatment of the Uyghur minority is a test of free speech in Europe, contends Soeren Kern, a senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
Beijing contends the sanctions it has issued against Western countries in retaliation are a morally equivalent tit for tat, but this is false, Kern said.
“The European sanctions are for crimes against humanity, whereas the Chinese sanctions seek to silence European critics of the Chinese Communist Party,” he argued.
“The current standoff is, in essence, about the future of free speech in Europe. If notoriously feckless European officials fail to stand firm in the face of mounting Chinese pressure, Europeans who dare publicly to criticize the CCP in the future can expect to pay an increasingly high personal cost for doing so.”
The EU sanctioned four Chinese officials blamed for abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security, is accused of being “directly involved in implementing a large-scale surveillance, detention and indoctrination program.”
The EU sanctions included travel bans and freezing assets, but they conspicuously exclude the top official in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, Kern noted.
China responded immediately with sanctions on 14 European individuals and groups, including German politician Reinhard Bütikofer, several members of European Parliament, members of the Dutch and Belgian parliaments, and others from Lithuania, Germany and Sweden.
“The 10 individuals have publicly criticized the Chinese government for human rights abuses,” Kern explained, and their offenses include drafting anti-genocide legislation.
China scolded the Europeans, insisting they “must end the hypocritical practice of double standards and stop going further down the wrong path.”
Beijing followed with sanctions against multiple British individuals, which may have killed a new trade deal between the two countries.
European leaders responded with outrage.
“We sanction people who violate human rights, not parliamentarians, as has now been done by the Chinese side,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. “This is neither comprehensible nor acceptable for us.”
Dutch lawmaker Sjoerd Sjoerdsma said: “As long as human rights are being violated, I cannot stay silent. These sanctions prove that China is sensitive to pressure. Let this be an encouragement to all my European colleagues: Speak out!”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It speaks volumes that, while the UK joins the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese government sanctions its critics. If Beijing wants to credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it should allow the UN high commissioner for human rights full access to verify the truth.”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said that “in plain language: Beijing wants to decide who in Europe can talk or write about China.”
And Sophia Yan, China correspondent for the Telegraph of London, said Beijing’s sanctions “show the regime of Xi Jinping will not tolerate dissent from anyone, anywhere.”