For the first time since the Tiananmen massacre, the European Union has imposed sanctions on China for "serious human rights violations" against the Uighurs, a Muslim minority living in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.
The sanctions affect four senior officials and one entity held responsible for human rights violations. "Large-scale arbitrary detentions" were one of the reasons for the EU's decision.
Among those sanctioned are leading figures such as the former secretary of the Xinjiang Political and Legal Affairs Committee, Zhu Hailun, who is seen as the mastermind of the large-scale surveillance and detention programme of the Uighurs. His successor, Wang Mingshan, is also among those sanctioned, as is Wang Junzheng, secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a state-owned economic organisation, and Mingguo Chen, director of the region's Public Security Bureau since January this year and vice-chairman of the regional government.
The measures are being implemented under the recently adopted sanctions regime modelled on the US Magnitsky Act, which was launched earlier this year against four Russian officials involved in the conviction of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The sanctions are also part of a package of measures also affecting Russia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Libya and North Korea, covering a total of eleven individuals and four entities. Extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances in the case of Libya, torture and repression of LGBTI people in the case of Chechnya (Russia) and assassinations in South Sudan and Eritrea are the human rights violations that these sanctions seek to put an end to. In the case of Xinjiang, according to the United Nations, there are approximately one million Uighurs held in detention camps.
The sanctions were approved just a week ago by the EU's permanent ambassadors and although they are of a rather symbolic nature, they involve freezing of assets and travel bans.
In parallel to the announcement of the European sanctions, the US Treasury Department confirmed that it would also sanction two senior Chinese officials. The move, it confirmed, was coordinated with the EU, UK and Canada.
This was followed by a joint statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of the Five Eyes alliance of the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US itself.
"The evidence, including the Chinese government's own documents, satellite imagery and eyewitness testimony, is overwhelming. The extensive programme of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations and destruction of Uighur heritage," the organisation's statement said.
Blinken stressed that the coordinated action "demonstrates a continued commitment to work multilaterally to promote respect for human rights and to shine a light on those responsible for these atrocities in the government of the People's Republic of China and the CCP."
For its part, the Treasury Department statement noted that "complementary actions using these global human rights sanctions regimes allow like-minded partners to form a unified front to identify, promote accountability, and disrupt access to the international financial system by human rights abusers".
Beijing has not taken kindly to the position adopted by the European Union, with which it recently signed an investment agreement. The Chinese authorities summoned the EU ambassador to the country following the Brussels announcement.
"China strongly opposes and condemns the EU sanctions," said the statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry, which went on to impose sanctions on ten people, including five members of the European Parliament. Beijing accuses the EU of "spreading lies" and warned that if it does not rectify its position "there will be further measures".
French MEP Raphaël Glucksmann (S&D), Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Renew Europe), Slovakian MEP Miriam Lexmann (EPP) and German MEPs Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens) and Michael Gahler (EPP) are the five MEPs on the Chinese sanctions list, in addition to researchers and four institutions. All of them will be banned from entering China.
Beijing, which has dismissed reports on Xinjiang as "fallacious", claims that its policy in the region has served to "de-radicalise" and curb terrorism.