Beijing has held military drills near the Taiwan Straits and has deployed marines and missiles to its southern coast.
The United States is preparing to impose sanctions on at least a dozen Chinese officials over their alleged role in Beijing’s disqualification of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong, the Reuters news agency reported on Monday, citing three sources, including a US official familiar with the matter.
The move, which could come as soon as Monday, will go after officials from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as President Donald Trump’s administration maintains pressure on Beijing in his final weeks in office. President-elect Joe Biden takes over on January 20.
The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As many as 14 people, including officials of China’s parliament, or National People’s Congress and members of the CCP, would probably be affected by measures such as asset freezes and financial sanctions, two sources said.
The US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said multiple individuals would be sanctioned. A person familiar with the matter said the group would probably include officials from Hong Kong as well as the mainland. The sources did not provide names or positions of those being singled out for sanctions. Two sources cautioned that an announcement could still be delayed until later in the week.
Hong Kong’s government last month expelled four opposition members from its legislature after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent. The move triggered the mass resignation of pro-democracy opposition legislators in the Chinese-controlled territory.
The move also raised further alarm among western democracies.
The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group – made up of Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the US – said last month the move appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics and called on Beijing to reverse course.
White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in November the expulsion showed the “One Country, Two Systems” framework, under which Hong Kong’s autonomy had been promised since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997, was now “merely a fig leaf” and promised further US action.
In October, the US State Department warned international financial institutions doing business with individuals deemed responsible for China’s crackdown in the Asian financial hub that they could soon face tough sanctions.
Washington has already put sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the territory’s current leader and former police chiefs and other top officials in August for what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms in a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
In November, the State Department and Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four more Chinese officials in Hong Kong’s government and security establishment, barring them from travelling to the US and blocking any US-related assets they might have.
Beijing has previously condemned US sanctions related to Hong Kong, calling the measures interference in China’s internal affairs.
Hong Kong is expected to be one of Biden’s thorniest challenges with China, with relations between Washington and Beijing at the lowest point in decades over an array of disputes. Biden has promised to take a tougher line than Trump over human rights in China and other countries.