For the first time since the Tiananmen Square massacre, the European Union sanctions China over rights abuses.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials over human rights abuses against the mostly Muslim Uighur minority group.
The announcement marks the first time the EU has sanctioned Chinese officials over human rights abuses since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
The sanctions include a freeze on the officials’ assets in the EU and a ban on them travelling in the bloc.
China responded with its own sanctions on European officials.
Human rights groups say China has detained more than a million Uighurs and people from other Muslim minority groups at camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang.
The Chinese government has been accused of carrying out forced sterilisations on Uighur women and separating children from their families. BBC investigations have contained first-hand testimony of forced labour and systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of detainees.
China has denied the allegations, claiming the camps are “re-education” facilities being used to combat terrorism.
The EU sanctions target senior officials in Xinjiang who have been accused of responsibility for abuses against Uighurs. They include Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, who the EU said was responsible for “serious human rights violations”; senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng; and the former head of China’s Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun. One entity, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, was also sanctioned.
Xinjiang’s top official, Chen Quanguo, was not on the list.
China on Monday said the sanctions were “based on nothing but lies and disinformation”. It said it would sanction 10 people and four entities in the EU “that severely harm China’s sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation” in response.
German politician Reinhard Butikofer, who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation to China, was among the most high profile officials on China’s list.
Under the sanctions, the European officials are barred from entering China or doing business with it. The sanctions mark a rare escalation of diplomatic tensions between the EU and China, which are major trading partners.