Prior to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with top Chinese diplomats in Alaska later this week, Washington has sanctioned 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on the capital.
The sanctions were enacted under the United States’ Hong Kong Autonomy Act (HKAA), which was passed last year in response to Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law in Hong Kong that prohibits secession, subversion, and collaboration with foreign powers.
Wang Chen, a member of the Politburo, one of China’s highest decision-making bodies, and Tam Yiu-chung, the only Hong Konger on the committee that drafted the national security bill, are among those sanctioned.
Many of the individuals on the list released by the State Department on Wednesday had previously been barred from traveling to the United States by the Trump administration, as had their family members. Financial sanctions can be imposed as a result of designation under the HKAA, including banking controls, loans from US financial institutions, property purchases, and dealings with US entities.
Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, who had previously been sanctioned under the HKAA, has stated that the move essentially cut her out of the global banking system, forcing her to hoard cash because banks refuse to do business with her.
Blinken said in a statement that the decision was in reaction to new Beijing limits on democracy in Hong Kong, which would limit people’s ability to run for office even further.
The latest sanctions, according to Blinken, highlight “our profound concern with the National People’s Congress’s unilateral decision to weaken Hong Kong’s electoral structure on March 11.”
Multiple senior members of the NPC, China’s rubber stamp parliament, and Hong Kong law enforcement officials have been sanctioned. Previously, a number of senior police commanders had been sanctioned.
“This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance, a move that the United Kingdom has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Blinken said.
“A stable, prosperous Hong Kong that respects human rights, freedoms, and political pluralism serves the interests of Hong Kong, mainland China, and the broader international community. The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong, and we will respond when the PRC fails to meet its obligations,” he added.
The sanctions come as Hong Kong’s legislature prepares to vote on a new bill creating a “patriotism” test for candidates running for office, which is likely to limit most members of the conventional opposition. The bill is certain to pass because pro-democracy legislators resigned en masse in protest of the dismissal of some of their colleagues last year, leaving the legislature with no opposition members.
Blinken expressed concern about China’s use of “coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law” during a meeting with his counterparts in Tokyo.
In response to those remarks, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said on Tuesday that bilateral talks between the US and Japan should help increase mutual understanding and confidence among regional countries, rather than “targeting or undermining the interests of any third party.”
The new sanctions are likely to elicit a much more forceful response from Beijing, which has been pursuing a tentative rapprochement with US President Joe Biden’s administration, although on China’s terms.
On Thursday, Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with China’s top two diplomats, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Alaska, in a big move toward improving relations.
While Beijing has yet to respond to the new sanctions, observers immediately speculated that Washington’s aggressive move ahead of the meeting could lead to its cancellation.
Last week, Zhao, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, urged the US to “abandon the Cold War and zero-sum mindset, respect China’s sovereignty, stability, and development interests,” and to “stop intervening in China’s internal affairs,” language that is typically used to refer to Washington’s pressure on Beijing over Hong Kong.