Will a new Chinese government national security law finally spell an end to Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy?
The United States has slapped sanctions on four more officials in the mainland and Hong Kong, accusing them of threatening the peace and security of the semi-autonomous city over their role in enacting the national security law imposed by Beijing at the end of June.
The US Department of State identified the four as Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office; Edwina Lau, deputy commissioner of police in Hong Kong, and Li Jiangzhou and Li Kwai-wah, two officials at the newly established national security office in Hong Kong.
“These individuals will be barred from travelling to the United States and their assets within the jurisdiction of the United States or in the possession or control of US persons will be blocked,” said Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state.
“These actions underscore US resolve to hold accountable key figures that are actively eviscerating the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy,” he added.
None of the four officials could be reached immediately for comment.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said the sanctions were “absolutely unacceptable, a blatant – and I would use the word ‘barbaric’ – interference”.
“We are not going to be intimidated,” Cheung told reporters, speaking at a regular news conference held on Tuesday morning in Hong Kong.
Washington has already imposed similar sanctions on Hong Kong’s top leader, Carrie Lam, as well as the city’s current and former police chiefs. Lam downplayed the effect of the measures in August, but acknowledged that she had had trouble with a credit card after the sanctions.
Washington has called China’s enactment of the national security law in Hong Kong an unacceptable breach of the “one country, two systems” commitment made on the city’s handover from Britain in 1997. The new legislation, imposed on June 30, punishes anything Beijing deems secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
About two dozen people have been arrested under the new law, including newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai, a staunch critic of the government in Beijing.
Only two have so far been charged – Tony Chung, the 19-year-old former leader of a pro-independence group and Tong Ying-kit, a 23-year-old activist who was arrested in July after hanging a “Liberate Hong Kong” banner on his motorbike and allegedly riding into a group of police officers.
Last month, the US State Department also warned international financial institutions doing business with individuals deemed responsible for China’s crackdown in Hong Kong that they could soon face tough sanctions.
Relations between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, plunged to the lowest point in decades in the run-up to last week’s US election. The two sides are at odds on a wide range of issues including China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its treatment of Hong Kong.
The designations on Monday are the first sanctions imposed on China since Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump. Biden is due to take office on January 20. Trump so far has refused to concede defeat.