Brussels (AFP) -
The EU on Monday imposed sanctions against four Chinese officials over the crackdown on the Uighurs, sparking an immediate tit-for-tat response against Europeans from Beijing.
Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels also took aim at Myanmar's junta over its coup, as they expanded bloc's measures targeting global rights breaches.
The highly symbolic move against Beijing is the first time Brussels has targeted China over human rights abuses since it imposed an arms embargo in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The four officials targeted were former and current officials in the western Xinjiang region -- along with the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
Beijing slammed the measures and immediately hit back by announcing entry bans on 10 Europeans -- including five members of the European Parliament -- and four entities.
China's foreign ministry said the EU's move 'grossly interferes in China's internal affairs' and 'severely undermines China-EU relations'.
Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in the northwestern region, where China is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.
China has strongly denied allegations of forced labour involving Uighurs in Xinjiang and says training programmes, work schemes and better education have helped stamp out extremism in the region.
The EU faces a delicate balancing act over relations with China as it treats Beijing as a rival and also a potential economic partner.
Brussels late last year sealed a major investment pact with China after seven years of negotiations, but is under pressure from the administration of new US President Joe Biden to form a united front against Beijing.
- 'Confrontational' -
Monday's measures were part of a package of human rights sanctions, targeting 11 people in total, that includes Russia, North Korea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Libya.
A mechanism -- designed to make it easier for the bloc to target rights abusers worldwide -- was launched this month with sanctions on four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The listings published in the EU's official journal included two senior officials in Russia's Chechnya over the persecution of gay men in the region.
They also targeted two North Korean ministers, two Libyan militia leaders, a senior commander in South Sudan's army and Eritrea's national security agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also lashed out at Brussels over its 'unconstructive, often confrontational policies' in a phone call with EU chief Charles Michel.
Ties with Russia -- in crisis since the 2014 annexation of Crimea -- have worsened since Moscow rebuffed attempts by EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell to find common ground during a visit last month.
- Myanmar blacklist -
EU ministers also took aim at Myanmar's junta over its coup last month and a bloody crackdown on demonstrators.
The bloc placed army chief Min Aung Hlaing, nine other senior military officers and the election commission head on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist.
'What we see there in terms of excesses of violence is absolutely unacceptable,' German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering a mass uprising that security forces have sought to crush with a campaign of violence and fear.
Diplomats have said that businesses tied to the military will likely be placed under sanctions in the coming weeks.
- Turkey ties -
Beyond the battery of sanctions, ministers were debating efforts to improve ties with Turkey after a spike in tensions last year over the eastern Mediterranean.
Brussels has welcomed steps by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reduce tensions by restarting talks with Greece over their disputed maritime border.
But there remain major concerns, including over domestic freedoms after moves to ban a key opposition party and Erdogan's decision to leave a global treaty on preventing violence against women.
Borrell has drawn up a report outlining the bloc's options to be discussed by leaders at a video conference this week.
Warming ties have seen efforts to impose sanctions agreed on in December over Turkish drilling off Cyprus put on the back burner for fear of derailing the rapprochement.