The United States on Monday imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 Chinese officials over their alleged role in the disqualification last month of four elected opposition legislators in the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong.
The move targets the vice-chairpersons of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), the top decision-making body of the Chinese legislature, and is seen as part of an effort by outgoing US President Donald Trump to cement his tough-on-China legacy and box President-elect Joe Biden into hardline positions on Beijing at a time of bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress. Biden is due to take office on January 20.
The Trump administration in August imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the territory’s current and former police chiefs and other top officials for what it said was their role in curtailing freedoms in a crackdown on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
“Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its legislative council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government last month expelled four opposition members from the legislature after China’s parliament gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent. The move triggered mass resignations by pro-democracy opposition lawmakers in the former British colony.
US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said last month that the expulsion showed the “One Country, Two Systems” framework, which was supposed to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy after the United Kingdom handed the territory back to China in 1997, was now “merely a fig leaf”, and promised further US action.
Pompeo said the NPCSC had effectively “neutered” the ability of people in Hong Kong to choose their elected representatives, and added, “These actions demonstrate once again Beijing’s complete disregard for its international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN- [United Nations] registered treaty.”
Beijing’s actions have intensified concern in the West. The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group – comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US – said last month that the move appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics and called on China to reverse course.
The sanctions prohibit 14 individuals and their immediate family members from travelling to the US. Any assets the officials might have within the US will be blocked and US individuals and companies will be banned from dealing with them.