The US Treasury has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials from Hong Kong and mainland China.
The sanctions have been used to target those who undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
“The United States supports the people of Hong Kong,” Mnuchin added.
The move comes weeks after China imposed a controversial national security law on Hong Kong, which critics say threatens its freedoms.
US-China tensions continue to escalate. Earlier this week, the Trump administration decided to ban U.S. transactions with Chinese owners of the WeChat and TikTok apps.
Among those sanctioned are the Hong Kong Police Commissioner and several political secretaries.
- Profile: Carrie Lam, Managing Director of Hong Kong
The US Treasury has directly accused Ms. Lam of “implementing Beijing’s policy of suppressing freedom and democratic processes.”
“In 2019, Lam pushed for an update to Hong Kong’s extradition arrangements to allow extradition to the mainland, sparking a series of massive opposition protests in Hong Kong,” the US Treasury added. in a press release.
On Saturday, the Hong Kong government called the move “blatant and barbaric interference in the internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China, using Hong Kong as a pawn.”
Ms Lam’s spokesperson said she would not be “intimidated”.
Speaking on behalf of her targeted senior colleagues, Executive Director Ms. Carrie Lam said that we are fulfilling an honorable duty to safeguard national security, to protect the lives and interests of not only the 7.5 million Hong Kongers, but also 1.4. billions of Continental. ”
Luo Huining, Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong, was among those sanctioned. He said the measures were ridiculous.
Hong Kong Commerce Secretary Edward Yau called the sanctions disproportionate and warned of retaliation against American companies in the region.
The 11 officials sanctioned will see all property in the United States seized and their financial assets frozen.
Hong Kong Security Law
The United States has sharply criticized the Hong Kong National Security Act, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling it an “Orwellian gesture” and an attack “on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
China has defended its controversial law as necessary to stop foreign interference in Hong Kong and the often violent pro-democracy protests that took place last year.
Announcing the sanctions on Friday, Pompeo said: “The Chinese Communist Party has made it clear that Hong Kong will never again enjoy the high degree of autonomy that Beijing itself promised the people of Hong Kong and the United Kingdom during 50 years.
“President Trump has made it clear that the United States will therefore treat Hong Kong as ‘a country, a system’ and take action against the individuals who have violated the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. ”
Ms Lam previously scoffed at the suggestion of sanctions, saying last month, “I have no assets in the United States and I do not want to move to the United States. ”
The latest sanctions were authorized by an executive order signed by Trump in July aimed at punishing China for its role in Hong Kong affairs.
What else happened with US-China relations?
Tensions between the United States and China have increased at an accelerating pace in recent months.
The White House accused China of lying about the origins of the coronavirus, which emerged from China late last year; to use social media applications to spy on Americans; to “steal” intellectual property; and hiding a wanted criminal in a Chinese embassy in the United States – to name just a few allegations.
The two countries ordered the closure of their respective consulates in major cities last month as tensions mounted.
The United States has also pressured the Five Eyes intelligence alliance partners – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom – to ban China’s Huawei 5G telecommunications systems, citing national security concerns.
China has expelled journalists from major US newspapers after the United States imposed new restrictions on Chinese media affiliated with the country’s communist government.
- US sanctions against the Chinese for “abuse” in Xinjiang
Earlier this month, China issued arrest warrants for six pro-democracy activists, including a US citizen.
China’s push into the South China Sea has also alarmed its neighbors as well as the United States, which has stepped up the pace of Navy patrols sent to sea to counter Chinese expansion.
Limited impact but highly symbolic
Analyse par Zhaoyin Feng, BBC News Chinese, Washington
US sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials had been looming for weeks.
The actual personal impact on these Hong Kong-based officials may be limited if they have no financial interests in the United States and do not plan to attend.
And Carrie Lam herself recently said she was not afraid of sanctions.
But this decision is highly symbolic, because it is the last step of Washington condemning Beijing’s desire to restrict freedoms and democracy in Hong Kong. The former British colony has become a major point of contention between the United States and China.
The world’s two largest economies appear to be going through a painful “divorce,” with a back-to-back US presidential election just three months away.
What does Washington get out of it? By being tough on Beijing, the Trump administration is trying to rally voters, while Chinese hawks in the White House aim to correct the course of a bilateral relationship that they believe China has won more than America.