An additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials have been sanctioned by the United States over the ongoing crackdown by Beijing on the semi-autonomous city, including the decision to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system.
The move comes ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with top Chinese officials scheduled to take place in Alaska this weekend, the first such meeting since President Joe Biden took office.
The sanctions announced on Tuesday were introduced under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act (HKAA), which was passed last year by the US in response to Beijing’s new National Security Law in Hong Kong
Last June, Beijing implemented this law on the city, which bans secession, sabotage and collusion with foreign forces. Many people in Hong Kong opposed the National Security Act for months, while several clashed with police brutality.
The sanctions follow planned changes to Hong Kong’s electoral law endorsed by Beijing’s formal Legislature last week, which would grant power to the pro-Chinese committee to appoint more Hong Kong lawmakers.
The move would decrease the proportion of people directly elected and ensure that only those determined to be loyal to China are allowed to run for office – effectively shutting down opposing figures from the political process.
One of the 24 officials sanctioned is Wang Chen who, a member of the elite 25-member Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. Another person Tam Yiu-chung is the only Hong Kong member of the committee that drafted the National Security law.
Several officials from Hong Kong’s National Security Division were also blacklisted, including Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent, as well as Edwina Lau, a deputy commissioner of the Hong Kong police force as well as the head of the NSD.
In October last year, Washington had already sanctioned 10 officers, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Hong Kong Deputy Director and Macao Affairs Office Zhang Xiaoming. The sanctions halted their visit to the US and blocked their dealings with financial institutions of the country.
Carrie Lam has said that the move effectively cut her off from the global banking system, forcing her to stockpile cash as banks would not do business with her.
Blinken said in a statement that the move was in response to new restrictions introduced by China on democracy in Hong Kong, which would further limit citizens’ right to stand for election.
“The release of today’s update to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act report underscores our deep concern with the National People’s Congress March 11 decision to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system,” U.S. Secretary of State said in a statement.
Mentioning the time when Hong Kong was a British colony, Blinken said “This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to Hong Kongers and denied them a voice in their own governance. A move that the UK has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” he stressed.
“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,” Blinken added.
The announcement was made by the US on Wednesday, during the visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea. While in Tokyo, the two officials made a joint statement with their Japanese counterparts over 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.”
In response to those comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday that exchanges between Washington and Tokyo would help in building up mutual understanding and trust among nations in the region and “not target or undermine the interests of any third party.”
On Thursday, Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are slated to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the foreign affairs chief of China’s ruling Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Beijing has not yet responded to the new sanctions, but there was immediate speculation among observers that this move by Washington ahead of the meeting could result in its cancellation.