The United States has sanctioned an additional 24 Chinese officials over Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, including a decision to overhaul the city’s electoral system.
The sanctions, announced late on Tuesday, were introduced under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and list officials who are deemed responsible for eroding the rights and freedoms promised to the people of Hong Kong at the time of its handover from British to Chinese rule.
Last June, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests, and authorities there have arrested scores of prominent pro-democracy legislators and activists.
The 24 officials sanctioned by the US include Wang Chen, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s elite 25-member Politburo, and Tam Yiu-chung, the Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese parliament’s standing committee, which drafted the national security law.
Several officers from Hong Kong’s National Security Division were also sanctioned, including Li Kwai-wah, a senior superintendent, as well as Edwina Lau, a deputy commissioner of the Hong Kong police force and the head of the NSD.
“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,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
He said the changes erode the autonomy promised to Hong Kong at the 1997 handover from the United Kingdom, and deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance.
“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,” he said.
The electoral law changes, which were approved by China’s ceremonial legislature last week, give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers, reducing the proportion of those directly elected, and ensure that only those determined to be truly loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office.
Last October, the US had already sanctioned 10 officials including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Zhang Xiaoming.
The latest sanctions come just hours before talks were set to begin between Blinken and Chinese officials in Alaska, the first such meeting since President Joe Biden took office.
The Biden administration has generally backed the tougher approach to China initiated by Trump but has also insisted that it can be more effective by shoring up alliances and seeking narrow ways to cooperate on priorities such as climate change.