Dutch MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma is no longer allowed to travel to China after the country decided to impose sanctions due to the MP’s initiative that led to the passing of a non-binding motion that said the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China amounted to genocide. Although the motion was passed by a majority, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party voted against the resolution.
Sjoerdsma is a MP for the centre-left party D66, who has long been outspoken against human rights violations. He has joined the list of five members of the European Parliament, two MPs from Belgium and Lithuania, two academics and four organisations that have received sanctions from China. Due to this sanction, those affected and their families will not be able to enter into China, Hong Kong and Macao. They are also not allowed to conduct business with China or Chinese nationals.
The human rights accusations against China are fuelled by the hundreds of camps that are used to ‘re-educate’ Uyghurs. Although China has called them training camps, Uyghurs are forcibly moved there and required to perform hard labour in cotton fields and spinning mills. China sees the small Islamic ethnic group as ‘apostates’ and a possible threat to the state. Activists and UN rights experts say at least one million Uyghurs are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture and forcible sterilisations. Taken together, the treatment of the Uyghurs by China may qualify as genocide, according to many critics.
After the announcement, Sjoerdsma declared that he “will not be silent” as long as the genocide against Uyghurs continues. “China is very well known to act like this. This proves that the country is sensitive to outside pressure.” Sjoerdsma hopes that many of his European colleagues would now speak out against human rights violations. It seems his call has been heard. Although the Netherlands was the first country in Europe to accuse China of genocide, on 23 February Canada passed a resolution labelling China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok has talked to the Chinese ambassador after the sanctions were announced. “It is unacceptable that democratically elected representatives, people who represent our country in The Hague, Brussels or anywhere in the world, are affected by these kinds of sanctions,” said the outgoing Minister. EU Foreign Coordinator Josep Borrell and European Parliament President David Sassoli also called the Chinese retaliation “unacceptable”. “It will have consequences,” tweeted Sassoli.
Minister Blok also pointed out the difference between the Chinese who are on the EU sanction list, and the list that includes Sjoerdsma. “These (Chinese) are people who are involved in human rights violations, and they have been carefully researched.” Still, they are not forbidden to enter the EU.
In a response, the Chinese Embassy in The Hague said any suggestion of genocide in Xinjiang was an “outright lie” and the Dutch parliament had “deliberately slandered China and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs”. In a statement published on its website, the Chinese Embassy said that, contrary to the accusation of Sjoerdsma, the Uyghur population in Xinjiang has been growing in recent years and enjoys a higher standard of living and a longer life expectancy. In retaliation against ‘false accusations’, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the country was taking countermeasures by targeting individuals in the EU who are out to harm Chinese interests. This sentiment was echoed by China’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, who also accused Western powers of using the Uyghur issue to meddle in the country’s internal affairs.
Sjoerdsma has proposed lobbying the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics away from Beijing. He also called for a parliamentary inquiry into Chinese influence in the Netherlands, particularly focusing on industrial espionage and infiltration in the educational system. This was not the first time Sjoerdsma has been on a sanction list. Last year, he was not welcome in Russia because he had been critical of the country for years, partly because of its attitude towards the downing of flight MH17. Minister Blok in this case also called upon the Russian ambassador to discuss the lifting of the sanctions, but this was unsuccessful.
The European sanctions against China are the first since the arms embargo imposed in 1989 after the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing.
Written by Stephen Swai