U.S punished 24 Hong Kong and Chinese officials over Hong Kong crackdown

Washington has come to a decision to sanction 24 Chinese officials over Beijing's on-going crackdown in the city, including a decision to overhaul the city’s electoral system.
March 18, 2021 | 12:05
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attend the 2+2 Meeting at Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on March 16, 2021. (Photo: CNN)

Financial sanctions will be imposed on officials deemed responsible for Beijing's ongoing crackdown on the former British colony, including Wang Chen, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's 25-person Politburo, as well as Tam Yiu-chung, the sole Hong Kong delegate to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, according to Nikeii Asia.

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.

In a statement, Blinken said the move was in response to new restrictions introduced by Beijing on democracy in Hong Kong, which will further restrict the right of people in the city to stand for election.

Blinken said the new sanctions underscore "our deep concern with the National People's Congress March 11 decision to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong's electoral system."

Those sanctioned include multiple senior members of the NPC, China's rubber stamp parliament, and law enforcement officials in Hong Kong. A number of top police commanders were also sanctioned previously, according to CNN.

Officials sanctioned by the US include Wang Chen, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s elite 25-member Politburo [Leo Ramirez/ AFP]

"This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance, a move that the United Kingdom has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration," Blinken said.

"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. The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong, and we will respond when the PRC fails to meet its obligations," he added.

Wednesday's sanctions come as Hong Kong's legislature is due to consider a new bill laying out a "patriotism" test for those standing for election, which is expected to limit most members of the traditional opposition. The bill is guaranteed to pass, as the legislature currently has no opposition members, since pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse in protest at the expulsion of several of their colleagues last year.

Blinken warns China not to use ‘coercion and aggression’ to get its way

The move by Washington comes after Blinken expressed concern during a meeting with his counterparts in Tokyo over China's use of "coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law."

Blinken’s comments come a handful of days before he and national security advisor Jake Sullivan hold high-level, in-person talks with Chinese representatives. Blinken and Sullivan will meet with the People’s Republic of China’s Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party’s top decision-making body, and Wang Yi, the foreign minister, in Alaska, CNBC reported.

In response to those comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday the exchanges between the US and Japan should help increase mutual understanding and trust among countries in the region and "not target or undermine the interests of any third party."

President Joe Biden, who spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, has previously said that his approach to China would be different from his predecessor’s in that he would work more closely with allies in order to mount pushback against Beijing.

“We will confront China’s economic abuses,” Biden said in a speech at the State Department, describing Beijing as America’s “most serious competitor.”

“But we’re also ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so. We’ll compete from a position of strength by building back better at home and working with our allies and partners.”

Beijing has yet to respond to the new sanctions, but there was immediate speculation among observers that this aggressive move by Washington ahead of the meeting could result in its cancellation.

Last week, Zhao, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, urged the US to "abandon the Cold War and zero-sum mentality, respect China's sovereignty, security and development interests," and to "stop interfering in China's internal affairs," language which is usually used to refer to Washington pressuring Beijing over Hong Kong.

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