BRUSSELS: European Union officials have approved sanctions on Chinese officials, who are accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang province.
The penalties were approved at preparatory meetings for next week's Foreign Affairs Council, according to people familiar with the discussions. The penalties will be formally adopted at a meeting of the bloc's top diplomats on Monday, South China Morning Post reported.
These will be the first sanctions against Beijing since an EU arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The embargo is still in place.
China is the EU's second-largest trading partner.
China has been rebuked globally for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending members of the community to undergo some form of forcible re-education or indoctrination.
Beijing, on the other hand, has vehemently denied that it is engaged in human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang while reports from journalists, NGOs and former detainees have surfaced, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party's brutal crackdown on the ethnic community.
Analysts described the move as having "crossed a threshold" in relations with Beijing. It also marks the first time that the EU will use its new human rights sanctioning toolbox -- adopted last year -- against China, having given it a maiden outing following the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny last month.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and now an MEP, welcomed the incoming sanctions, but said that a relationship long predicated on carrots could use a few "more sticks".
"Towards China, that balance is especially difficult to find and maintain, but we have no other option. The next threat is to bar imports of goods produced in Xinjiang," Verhofstadt said.
"And in parallel, we are definitely withholding the 'carrots' that so attract international partners to Europe: if there is no significant and verified improvement, the European Parliament will not pass the EU-China investment agreement," he added.