High-profile individuals, including European parliament officials, are likely to be included in China's countermeasures; legal procedures to follow, warned experts
Published: Mar 22, 2021 05:47 PM
Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium shows a screen displaying the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held in Geneva, Switzerland.(Photo: Xinhua)

Photo taken on February 22 in Brussels, Belgium shows a screen displaying the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Xinhua

High-profile China hawk European politicians, including certain German parliamentarians, are likely to be included in China's countermeasures against EU's planned sanctions over Xinjiang, Chinese observers said ahead of the EU's signing off of punitive measures directed at China on Monday. 

After seeing China and the US senior official's exchange of blunt words in Alaska last week, and China's retort to the US accusations on issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the EU should learn its lesson on how to deal with China, warned experts, noting that Beijing is not afraid of a sanction-wielding Washington, not to mention a much weaker Brussels.

European Union foreign ministers are scheduled to sign off on a slate of punitive measures on Monday over alleged human rights abuses, including sanctions directed at China.

The sanctions would target four Chinese nationals and one entity, as a reaction to the alleged mistreatment by China of its minority Uygur population in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Bloomberg quoted three people familiar with the preparations as saying.

Sources close to this matter told the Global Times earlier that the Chinese government is formulating countermeasures against the EU. Some EU institutions that have been spearheading the accusations against China's Xinjiang policies will bear the brunt of the countermeasures, and some individuals in EU countries who have behaved badly will not escape punishment, they said. 

High-profile individuals who frequently bash China on the its Xinjiang affairs or who have pushed the EU to exercise sanctions on China, including Reinhard Bütikofer,  chair of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with China, are likely to be included in China's sanctions, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Monday.

Bütikofer has frequently criticized China and obstructed the China-EU investment agreement, using China's handling of the Xinjiang and Hong Kong affairs as his excuse.

Wang Jiang, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Law under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that China will likely come up with equivalent countermeasures to EU's sanctions on Chinese individuals and entities, including using legal tools to defend their legitimate rights. 

It is also possible that the relevant Chinese entities and individuals will sue those people promoting the sanction measures, just as Xinjiang residents brought rumormonger Adrian Zenz into the courtroom for reputational and economic losses, and local legal authorities in Europe will have to handle those civil litigations. 

Once legal procedures are underway, the defendant will have to bring up proof, which will demonstrate that those so-called sanctions over Xinjiang affairs are based on rumors, making it hard to go forward.

Meanwhile, the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, has already said that it will accelerate its work on laws against external sanctions, interference and long-arm jurisdiction, which would also be helpful in fighting against the unjustified application of foreign laws and sanction measures against Chinese officials and individuals, according to Wang.

 China can learn from Russia in countering foreign sanctions, such as granting the head of state the authority to allocate administrative resources in fighting those sanctions and protecting its citizens and companies, and also by accelerating the relevant anti-sanction legislature formulation, he said. 

Overestimated EU

This marks the EU's very first sanctions against China in 30 years, a move observers said will deal a heavy blow to bilateral relations between the two sides.

Human rights issues have always been the trigger point in relations, and have even led to squabbles between China and the EU, or specific European countries. For example, the bloc has frequently fired criticism against China's handling of the Hong Kong  affairs, which was then countered with a fierce backlash from China.

Now, feeling left behind, the EU wants to highlight its political existence by pressing for sanctions over "human rights issues" against both China and Russia, as it sees human rights as a weapon it can wield to get involved in the competition between superpowers, said Cui. He added that the block perceives the human rights as its most useful and advantageous weapon, as it doesn't have the financial and military power that Washington does. 

But the EU's arrogance has blinded it to the fact that it is in no position to point fingers at China's human rights development, as it has also become bogged down in serious human rights crises, such as the treatment of Muslims in their own countries, and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On March 2, the bloc imposed sanctions against four Russian officials over the sentencing of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, marking the first time the bloc used its Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, which was adopted in 2020. The US also triggered similar sanctions the same day.

The EU has followed the US in weaponizing human right issues, and is afraid that issuing punitive measures at Beijing by itself will seriously backfire against Brussels, said Cui, noting that the EU hopes that following Washington will somehow give itself more protection from Beijing's response.

Over the past weekend, the world's attention was fixed on the Alaska meeting between senior diplomats from China and the US, who wrapped up their first face-to-face meeting under the Biden administration. During the meeting, the US side also raised questions such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong to attack China.

Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Leading Group for Foreign Affairs, rebuked the US as not being qualified to speak to China from a position of strength. Yang lashed out at the US, saying it also has many human rights issues, and should mind its own business.

By following the US' suit, the EU has forgotten one thing: the tit-for-tat contest between China and the US is a result of serious consideration, and any possible result will make the world quiver with its consequences, said Cui.

"Beijing won't consider so many consequences in taking countermeasures against the EU, and the bloc will suffer much more pains, at a much higher cost if China makes a move," Cui warned.