The United States imposed sanctions on 11 Hong Kong officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday for their alleged roles in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting political freedoms.
In addition to Chief Executive Lam, the sanctions also targeted 10 other individuals including former and current police chiefs and other top pro-establishment officials who were listed in a press release from the US Treasury Department.
“The 11 individuals designated today have implemented policies directly aimed at curbing freedom of expression and assembly, and democratic processes, and are subsequently responsible for the degradation of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” read the statement.
“The United States will use the authorities in the Executive Order to continue to pursue those that implement these nefarious policies.”
This move comes after China implemented its sweeping national security law in the city, which prohibits any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces that allegedly endangers national security.
The “draconian” national security legislation has “[set] the groundwork for censorship of any individuals or outlets that are deemed unfriendly to China,” according to the Treasury Department’s statement.
Under these sanctions, any US assets or property owned by the targeted individuals would be frozen and all transactions between them and any US citizens would be prohibited.
The Hong Kong government responded shortly after the announcement of these sanctions, calling them “shameless and despicable.”
“The unscrupulous intentions of the U.S. politicians to support the anti-China chaos in Hong Kong have been revealed, and their clowning actions are really ridiculous,” read a statement released by the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong. “Intimidation and threats cannot frighten the Chinese people.”
Carrie Lam also accused the US of violating human rights by releasing her home address, albeit incorrectly.
“Such a deplorable move is no less than state-sanctioned doxxing that is a serious breach of privacy and personal safety. We reserve the right to take any necessary legal action,” Lam was quoted as saying in a government statement.
In a separate post on her Facebook page, Lam also accused US officials of using outdated information from her entry visa application from 2016 and passing on her address to the treasury.
Another sanctioned individual, Luo Huining, the director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong ridiculed the sanctions placed against him, saying “Isn’t such a ‘sanction’ in vain as I don’t have any assets abroad? Of course, I can also send US$100 to Mr Trump for freezing.”
On a more official note, the Beijing Liaison Office issued a statement deploring the US sanctions. “If the US believes the so-called sanctions will force China to compromise, then they have made a wrong calculation,” it read, adding that Hong Kong “will never be afraid of any bullying.”
As the targeted individuals generally appear to have no significant US assets and have adopted a dismissive attitude toward the sanctions imposed on them, some analysts believe that the sanctions served a more symbolic purpose.
“Unilateral sanctions imposed by foreign governments … have no legal status in Hong Kong,” read a letter issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
According to Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, “It’s much more about sending a message and demonstrating that the administration is acting on something that is in violation of and impinging on the freedom and the democratic potential of Hong Kong.”
The US sanctions have been a part of the Trump administration’s increasingly hard-line attitude toward China as tensions have escalated between the two world superpowers.
The US had previously revoked Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as well as halted sensitive exports to the island.
Countermeasures have also been taken against China on issues other than Hong Kong, such as trade, cybersecurity, territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus and human rights infringements on the Uighur Muslim population in the Xinjiang region.
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