© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Police officers hold and search residents of Mong Kok District on the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2021. REUTERS / Pak Yiu / File Photo
By Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on seven Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, Washington’s latest attempt to hold China accountable for the so-called erosion of the rule of law in the former British colony.
The sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department are aimed at people from the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, who are used by Beijing to orchestrate its policies on Chinese territory.
The seven people added to the Treasury Department’s “Specially Designated Nationals” list were Chen Dong, He Jing, Lu Xinning, Qiu Hong, Tan Tienui, Yang Jianping, and Yin Zonghua, all deputy directors of the liaison office, according to online bios.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Chinese officials “systematically undermined” Hong Kong’s democratic institutions last year, postponed elections, disqualified elected MPs and arrested thousands for disagreement with government policies.
“Given Beijing’s decisions last year that stifled the democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people, we are taking action. Today we are sending a clear message that the United States is resolutely on the side of Hong Kong people,” Blinken said in a statement.
The Treasury Department referred to a separate updated company announcement jointly issued with the Departments of State, Trade and Homeland Security highlighting the U.S. government’s concerns about the impact of Hong Kong’s National Security Law on international businesses.
Critics say Beijing implemented this law last year to allow for crackdown on pro-democracy activists and a free press.
The advice states that companies face risks related to electronic surveillance without a warrant and the disclosure of company and customer data to government agencies, and adds that individuals and companies should be aware of the potential consequences of working with sanctioned individuals or organizations .
The actions were announced a little over a year after former President Donald Trump ordered Hong Kong’s special status under US law to be lifted to punish China for what he called “suppressive actions” against the territory.
The United States has already imposed sanctions on other senior officials, including Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam and senior police officers, for their role in restricting political freedoms in the territory.
President Joe Biden said at a press conference Thursday that the Chinese government has broken its pledge to deal with Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese control in 1997.
China had promised Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, universal suffrage as the ultimate goal, which also provides for extensive autonomy for the city vis-à-vis Beijing.
Since China passed the national security law to criminalize subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have been ensnared by it or arrested for other reasons.
Apple (NASDAQ 🙂 Daily, Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to end a 26-year run in June amid the crackdown that froze the company’s funds.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press conference in Beijing before the measures were officially announced that the United States should stop meddling in Hong Kong and that China would give a “determined, strong response.”
A source told Reuters Thursday that the White House is also reviewing a possible executive order to facilitate immigration from Hong Kong, but that its implementation is still not certain.
US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is preparing to visit Japan, South Korea and Mongolia next week. The State Department’s announcement of their trip made no mention of a stopover in China that was expected in foreign policy circles and reported in some media.
A senior State Department official told reporters Friday that Washington was still in talks with Beijing about whether Sherman would visit China.
The US government on Tuesday also stepped up warnings to companies about the growing risks of supply chain and investment links in China’s Xinjiang region, citing forced labor and human rights violations there, which Beijing has denied.