Who are the 10 European citizens China is sanctioning?

Personas non grata.
Personas non grata.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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The European Union announced this week it would be blacklisting four Chinese officials and an entity allegedly responsible for human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. This marks the first time the bloc has sanctioned China for human rights violations since the 1989 Tiananmen student protests.

In retaliation, China sanctioned 10 European lawmakers and scholars, prohibiting them from traveling to mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau, or doing business with the country. It also penalized four entities. The list includes German researcher Adrian Zenz, whose documentation of the situation in Xinjiang has been central to mounting international pressure on China.

Around 1 million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minority groups are believed to have been held and mistreated by authorities in internment camps in this northwestern region of China. Beijing denies these allegations and defends the camps as a means to eradicate terrorism.

The US, UK, and Canada followed the EU move by imposing similar penalties, including travel bans and asset freezes, over the officials in a coordinated global effort to push Beijing to end its “discriminatory and oppressive practices” in the region, according to a joint statement by the countries. (At the time of this writing, China had not issued similar retaliatory sanctions against the UK, US, or Canada.)

Here’s a look at the 10 European individuals who have attracted Beijing’s ire.

Reinhard Bütikofer, Germany

Wang Yiwei, the head of the European studies at Renmin University in Beijing, has described Bütikofer, a 68-year-old member of the European parliament, and head of its delegation for China relations, as the “vanguard” of a European anti-China lobby, according to China’s Global Times. He’s also accused of “actively interfering” in Hong Kong affairs for meeting with activists, including Joshua Wong, and tweeting critically about the crackdown in the city. Bütikofer has long called for a joint approach with the US on China, and for this reason, was unhappy with Europe’s rush to agree to an investment deal with China late last year, known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI).

Bütikofer described China’s retaliatory sanctions as “a major strategic error.” He also said it was unlikely that the CAI’s ratification “will ever appear on the agenda of the European Parliament, as long as the sanctions are still in force.”

Samuel Cogolati, Belgium

The Belgian parliamentarian is a member of the Ecolo party, which focuses on green politics. Like Bütikofer, he is also a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an association of lawmakers from 20 countries that explores challenges posed by Beijing in areas like human rights and trade. Cogolati has raised the issue of Xinjiang several times in the Belgian parliament, and last month submitted a proposal with colleague Wouter de Vriendt to urge the government to declare Beijing’s behavior there as genocide. Recently, he met with Dilnaz Alimova, a young Belgian Uyghur woman who founded a group to draw more attention to Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang.

Michael Gahler, Germany

Gahler, a two decade-long member of the European Parliament who hails from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party, likely caught Beijing’s eye because of his staunch support for Taiwan, and calls for Europe to take a tougher stance on Beijing over reports of its abuses in Xinjiang. The 60-year-old veteran of the German foreign office focuses on foreign affairs and human rights in the parliament, where he chairs the EU body’s Taiwan Friendship Group. He is also part of a recently formed platform to boost European support for Taiwan.

Raphaël Glucksmann , France

The politician won a seat to the European Parliament in 2019, and has been vocal in bringing attention to China’s persecution of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. He launched a campaign last year targeted at companies that were allegedly benefiting from Uyghur forced labor, prompting major brands including Adidas and Lacoste to “agree to cease all activity with suppliers and subcontractors” in Xinjiang. Glucksmann, who has worked as a journalist and filmmaker, has also been outspoken in his opposition to the EU’s investment deal with China, saying the agreement “mocks the concentration camps and enslavement of a people.”

Björn Jerdén, Sweden

Jerdén is one of Sweden’s preeminent scholars of China, and director of the Swedish National China Centre, a newly formed unit of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. His research focuses on China’s security relationship (pdf) with Sweden, Japan, and other countries in east Asia. Unlike other people on this list, Jerdén’s not active on Twitter, and he’s not what anyone would qualify as a China hawk. That’s why his inclusion had many observers scratching their heads. But it may be explained more by Jerdén’s passport than by his research: Sweden is one of the European countries with which Beijing has butted heads in recent years.

Ilhan Kyuchyuk, Bulgaria

The European Parliament member has played an active role in pushing the body to officially condemn China for its human rights abuses in Xinjiang, signing onto a joint motion that led to a resolution denouncing Beijing’s actions and allowing the bloc to impose sanctions in response. When the European Parliament awarded its top human rights prize in 2019 to Ilham Tohti, an Uyghur scholar jailed for life in China for separatism, Kyuchyuk called it “a major step for all the oppressed people in China.”

Miriam Lexmann, Slovakia

The member of the European Parliament is a co-chair of the IPAC. She has called for sanctions on China for its treatment of Uyghurs, and has been equally vocal in condemning Beijing’s authoritarian crackdown on Hong Kong. She was part of an international delegation that observed the city’s November 2019 district elections in which the pro-democracy opposition camp won in a landslide. More recently, she urged consumers to support Australia’s wine industry, which has been battered by Chinese tariffs.

Dovilė Šakalienė, Lithuania 

Šakalienė is a member of the Lithuanian Parliament for the Social Democrats and also a co-chair of the IPAC. It’s the latter title that likely earned her a place on this list, although she’s been vocal in Lithuania about defending human rights, drawing from her experience as the former CEO of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, and as a former journalist. Of finding herself on the list, she told The Baltic Times: “It is a paradox that a country with a population of [more than] billion chooses to intimidate a citizen of a tiny country instead of ending illegal detention and torture of a million of its citizens.”

Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma, Netherlands

The Dutch politician is a key member of the country’s center-left Democrats 66 party, and has been a member of the Netherlands parliament since 2012. He initiated a motion passed by the parliament last month that declared China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as “genocide.” After China announced the sanctions on him, the Hague-based lawmaker said on Twitter that they were “proof that China is susceptible to outside pressure…I hope my European colleagues will seize this moment to speak out as well.”  Sjoerdsma is also on a blacklist of Russia for being critical of the regime.

Adrian Zenz, Germany

As a senior fellow in China studies at the Washington-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, Zenz’s work has been crucial to providing evidence of Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang. In 2018, Zenz became one of the first researchers to estimate that there were around 1 million Uyghur Muslims held in the camps in the region, a figure accepted by the US and other countries. Labeled a “rumormonger” by Beijing, Zenz now faces lawsuits from companies and individuals in the region that seek financial compensation over his Xinjiang research. “It is important to keep a balance between not underestimating the scale of this atrocity, and not throwing around highly speculative figures that have essentially no empirical basis,” Zenz told Quartz in 2019.

Apart from the 10 people above, China also blacklisted four groups.

They include the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, which deals with security and foreign policy issues of the bloc, the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, which seeks to ensure the bloc’s policies are in line with its human rights policies, the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany, a prominent think tank, and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark, an NGO founded by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark. China’s foreign ministry and the EU have not yet clarified whether the sanctions include every staff member of these institutions and their families but if so, they could apply to hundreds of people, and include diplomats.