Sanctions against China: brave, brash, or useless?

In reaction to the oppression of the Uyghur minority, the EU has imposed sanctions on China for the first time in three decades. The foreign ministers of the 27 member states approved punitive measures against four party representatives in the Xinjiang region and an organisation that, according to the EU, manages the detention camps for the "re-education" of the Muslim minority. Beijing responded with retaliatory measures.

Open/close all quotes
Le Monde (FR) /

From the Chinese perspective, Europe is not a power

Beijing is clearly unimpressed by the EU's announcements, Le Monde comments:

“The Global Times, press organ of the Chinese Communist Party, doesn't explain why Beijing is imposing counter-sanctions on the EU but not on the US. But one can guess the reason by reading its commentary: human rights are 'simply a weapon' for the EU, which 'is trying its best to exist without either the financial or the military clout of the US'. China knows what it's talking about: in accordance with the austerity policy demanded by Germany, the southern European countries had to sell off their ports and infrastructures to repay their debts after the euro crisis of 2009-2010. So the current dispute is about power. This backlash should be a lesson to Europe.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Beijing caught by surprise

Until now China's leadership has been used to the West putting economic interests before human rights when the chips were down, Jutarnji list points out:

“The EU had warned the People's Republic of China, demanded access to Xinjiang, but Beijing refused. Sanctions followed. Russia has already got used to them, but not the People's Republic. China was banking on the investment agreement signed last December protecting it from such actions. And this time they have taken on a global character as they have been adopted by the EU, US, Canada and the UK, and supported by Australia and New Zealand. ... Democracies need to find a common denominator in their relations with China and then take joint action, as with Monday's sanctions. Beijing has no answer to that.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

A clear conscience will cost you

Not every country will let itself be lectured to by the West, writes historian and philosopher Luuk van Middelaar in NRC Handelsblad:

“Unlike Chile or South Africa in the past, there is a price tag on a clear conscience in connection with China. The security of a few, potential prosperity and jobs for many. China has become powerful, and it's not about to disappear. Our economies are closely intertwined. And global problems like the climate require cooperation. Which factors must we weigh up, and how much weight should we give them? Where are our red lines, the core values that we most vigorously defend - and how much do they cost?”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Beijing can hardly remain a partner

The EU must rethink its relationship with China, De Volkskrant comments:

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth - that is the language that Beijing speaks fluently. This latest step of sanctioning European politicians, civil servants and academics is an exercise in 'lawfare'. ... Brussels has now understood that. ... In actual fact Brussels urgently needs political backing to defend the controversial investment agreement against its critics in the European Parliament right now. But with so many Europeans on the blacklist, Brussels has no choice but to rethink China's dual role. It is becoming increasingly difficult to see Beijing in a role other than that of a rival.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Walking a tightrope

At least the EU is taking action, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung writes:

“This measure is also a step on the path to a pan-European China policy. It is, however, undeniable that the goal is still unclear and a long way off. The EU, which at heart is always the 27 member states, is having a hard time finding a coherent strategy for China. In December, after lengthy negotiations, it signed an investment agreement with Beijing. ... Other Europeans, including France and Germany, insist on having an their own China policy. ... The bottom line is that the Europeans keep trying to walk a tightrope between investments and sanctions.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The encirclement has begun

A start has been made, Corriere della Sera comments with approval:

“At the moment the step is mainly symbolic, because it only affects four provincial functionaries in Xinjiang. ... What is significant, however, is the embargo against 'Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps', an organisation linked to the Chinese army that controls a fifth of the region's cotton production and employs a tenth of the labour force there. Britain, Canada and the US have joined Brussels in the move. .... For the Biden administration, this is a first strategic success in its campaign to encircle Beijing: the president is basing his strategy on reviving the Western alliance which Donald Trump neglected for four years.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

Europe may soon need China

The EU should have completely different priorities right now, Magyar Hírlap admonishes:

“For months, the European Union's failure to procure vaccines has dominated the headlines in the global press. ... It is particularly jarring that now of all times, when the calls for vaccines from the East are growing louder also due to Brussels' mistakes, the EU is starting to impose sanctions against China. As Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also said: this attitude is pointless, exhibitionist and harmful.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

This strategy already failed in the past

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung doesn't believe that the EU's sanctions will have the desired effect:

“China is no longer the developing country against which sanctions were imposed after the Tiananmen massacre. It's a rising global power with which Germany in particular does a lot of trade. The Chinese leadership is self-confident. Unlike in the past, it has the will and the means to counter Western pressure. As an alliance of democracies, the EU cannot remain indifferent to questions of human rights. But there are other ways to bring this point home. And in any event the EU's decisions are unlikely to have a major impact. The sanctions of 1989, which even included an arms embargo, neither led to the political opening of China nor prevented the country's massive armament.”