The E.U. was first to move, saying early Monday that it would hit four Chinese officials and a public security bureau with travel bans and asset freezes — its most significant measures since an arms embargo following the 1989 killings in Tiananmen Square.
China quickly responded, leveling similar measures against a list of its European critics.
Not long after, the United States, Canada and Britain jumped in. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced midday that the United States will add two names to its Xinjiang sanctions list.
Britain committed for the first time to impose asset freezes and travel bans on the same Chinese officials as the E.U. did, as well as a security body. Canada said it would do the same.
The U.S., British and Canadian statements stressed that the moves were the result of close cooperation. “We stand united with the UK, Canada, and the EU in promoting accountability for those who abuse human rights,” Blinken wrote in a tweet.
Though the sanctions are largely symbolic, they are sure to complicate ties between China and the rest of the world.
Under President Donald Trump, the United States promised to take a strong stance on China but for the most part did so alone. The Biden administration has stressed the importance of rallying allies, saying the scale of the challenge requires collective action. Monday’s moves appear to be a step in that direction.
The new measures mark the first time the Biden administration has sanctioned Chinese officials for what it calls a campaign of genocide. The Trump administration first used the word “genocide” to describe the crackdown in January, a determination that Biden’s top diplomat, Blinken, has since reaffirmed.
The E.U. sanctions take aim at four senior Chinese officials involved in designing and implementing policy in Xinjiang. The British list targets the same senior officials.
Notably, neither the E.U., British or Canadian lists includes the Chinese Communist Party’s top official in the region, Chen Quanguo, who was named in more robust U.S. sanctions last year.
The countermeasures it issued Monday took aim at outspoken members of the European Parliament; Dutch, Belgian and Lithuanian officials; a prominent German think tank focused on China; a Danish foundation; and two European scholars known for their work on the Xinjiang region.
The sanctions block those on the list and their families from traveling to the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong or Macao, or from doing business with China, according to a news release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The news release condemns the officials for “lies” about the “so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang.”
Raphaël Glucksmann, a French member of the European Parliament who has spoken out on Xinjiang, tweeted Monday that he considered the sanction a “badge of honor.”
In recent months, Europe has been accused of standing idle while the United States took the lead on issues such as Xinjiang.
Late last year, the E.U. and China reached an agreement in principle on a much-delayed investment pact, a move seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing and a snub to the incoming Biden administration.
Critics of that deal asked why Europe was knitting itself closer to an increasingly authoritarian China rather than tackling issues the E.U. says it cares about, including forced labor. The fate of that deal remains uncertain.
In the run-up to Monday’s announcement, China’s Communist Party-controlled media warned that there will be “no escape” for “some EU institutions and poorly behaving individuals” if the bloc pressed ahead.
John Hudson in Washington, Michael Birnbaum in Riga and Quentin Ariès in Brussels contributed to this report.