China has imposed retaliatory sanctions on a handful of UK politicians and researchers, as well as think tanks, advocacy groups, and a law firm. It’s a move that was widely expected after the UK, EU, US, and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions on Chinese officials this week for their role in alleged human rights abuses committed against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
As of today (March 26), the individuals and their immediate relatives will be banned from entering China or doing business with Chinese citizens and institutions, and any assets they own in China will be frozen.
Around 1 million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minority groups are believed by many Western governments 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.
Earlier this week the four Western powers unveiled sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang for their role in what Brussels called a “large-scale surveillance, detention, and indoctrination program targeting Muslim ethnic minorities.” In turn, China sanctioned five members of the European Parliament, two EU subcommittees, a think tank, a nonprofit, and two researchers.
Observers in the UK expected more to follow, and they did late last night, British time, in a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry that read:
The UK imposed unilateral sanctions on relevant Chinese individuals and entity, citing the so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang. This move, based on nothing but lies and disinformation, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and severely undermines China-UK relations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has summoned [Britain’s] ambassador to China to lodge solemn representations, expressing firm opposition and strong condemnation. The Chinese side decides to sanction… nine individuals and four entities on the UK side that maliciously spread lies and disinformation.
The sanctions come in the context of worsening relations between China and the UK. In a statement on Twitter UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who has in the past been a champion of deeper ties with Beijing, said:
The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims. Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.
Here’s a look at the nine individuals who have attracted Beijing’s ire.
Tom Tugendhat, Conservative MP for Tonbridge, Edenbridge, and Malling
Tugendhat is chair of the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee and co-founder of the China Research Group (CRG), a think tank that is also on the sanctions list, and whose purpose is to encourage debate about the risks and opportunities China’s rise may represent for Britain.
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green
Duncan Smith is a former leader of the Conservative Party who co-founded and co-chairs 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. He is one of the most vocal critics of China in the Commons.
Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden
Ghani is a leading member of IPAC and advocate for Uyghurs in Parliament. She recently introduced an amendment to a Trade Bill in the Commons that sought to prevent the UK from signing free trade agreements with countries accused of genocide.
Neil O’Brien, Conservative MP for Harborough, Oadby, and Wigston
Along with Tugendhat, O’Brien is a co-founder of the CRG and an ex-special advisor to George Osborne, the UK’s former chancellor of the Exchequer and architect of the “golden era” of relations between China and the UK.
Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham
Loughton is a member of IPAC and the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet. Earlier this week, he wrote to UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab to request expanded sanctions against high-level Chinese officials.
Lord David Alton of Liverpool
Lord Alton is arguably the most outspoken critic of China’s human rights record in the House of Lords. He is a member of IPAC and a supporter of several advocacy groups focused on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Watch and Stand With Hong Kong. He is the author of the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill.
Baroness Helena Kennedy of The Shaws
Baroness Kennedy is a high-profile barrister with a focus on human rights. She is a co-chair of IPAC and co-sponsored the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill in the Lords.
Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC
Sir Geoffrey is a barrister with a focus on human rights. He chaired the China Tribunal, a group that investigated allegations of forced organ harvesting in China, and now chairs the Uyghur Tribunal, which is doing the same thing for allegations of genocide against the Uyghurs.
Joanne Nicola Smith Finley, reader in Chinese studies at Newcastle University
Smith Finley has studied Uyghurs for over 20 years and is frequently quoted as an expert on the situation in Xinjiang in the media. She has also served as expert witness in Uyghur asylum cases in the UK, US, EU, and Canada.
Apart from the people above, China also blacklisted four entities. They include the China Research Group, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the Uyghur Tribunal, and Essex Court Chambers, whose legal experts recently published an opinion “concluding that in their opinion there is a credible case that acts carried out by the Chinese government against the Uyghur population in [Xinjiang]… amount to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.”
As with the EU sanctions, it’s not clear whether the sanctions apply to every staff member of these institutions and their families but if so, they could apply to hundreds of people, and include many more politicians than the ones on this list.