China slaps visa curbs on US diplomats, NGOs visiting HK, Macau

Beijing accuses Washington of ‘meddling’ in Hong Kong and interfering in China’s internal affairs after US sanctions 14 more Chinese officials.

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said US officials committed 'vile' behaviour on Hong Kong [File: Vivek Prakash/EPA]

China has announced that it is revoking visa exemptions for US diplomatic passport holders visiting Hong Kong and Macau, after the United States imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on more than a dozen Chinese officials – the latest moves in a continuing diplomatic feud between the two countries.

Beijing will also implement reciprocal sanctions against some US officials, members of Congress, personnel at non-governmental organisations, and their family members, for their “vile” behaviour on Hong Kong, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference.

“China once again urges the United States to immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and interfering in China’s internal affairs, and not to go further down the wrong and dangerous path,” she said on Thursday.

She declined to give any names of those sanctioned or to say when the sanctions would start.

The US imposed financial sanctions on Monday, as well as a travel ban on 14 Chinese officials for their role in adopting a national security law for Hong Kong and for Beijing’s disqualification last month of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong.

The US action was widely seen as part of an effort by outgoing President Donald Trump to cement his tough-on-China legacy, and to box President-elect Joe Biden into taking a similarly hardline position on Beijing at a time when there is a broad bipartisan consensus to take a tough approach to China.

Biden takes office on January 20.

‘Broken Tooth’

In August, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other top officials for what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms during a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.

China’s latest move also came after the US on Wednesday slapped sanctions on Wan Kuok-koi, a leader of China’s 14K Triad organised crime group, and three entities “owned or controlled” by him.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was targeting Wan, also known as “Broken Tooth”, as part of broader efforts to stamp out corruption across several countries in Asia and Africa, it said.

The statement said Wan was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a largely ceremonial advisory body – a claim refuted by Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua.

She also accused some US personnel of “fabricating lies and taking any opportunity to smear China”.

Under the sanctions, all properties of Wan and companies that fall under US jurisdiction are frozen.

“Corruption knows no borders,” said one senior US official.

OFAC regulations generally bar Americans from dealing with designated individuals.

A senior US official told reporters non-US actors who deal with them also risk being blacklisted.

The Treasury said it targeted Wan for the 14K Triad’s involvement in drug trafficking, illegal gambling, racketeering, human trafficking and other criminal activities.

The Treasury also designated three entities owned or controlled by Wan: Cambodia-based World Hongmen History and Culture Association; Hong Kong-based Dongmei Group; and the Palau China Hung-Mun Cultural Association, based in Palau.

It said the World Hongmen group had co-opted elites in Malaysia and Cambodia, continuing a “pattern of overseas Chinese actors trying to paper over illegal criminal activities by framing their actions in terms of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” and other major initiatives of the Chinese Communist Party.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters