July 15, 2020

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US imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong national security law

The US State Department has imposed its first wave of visa restrictions against Chinese officials in retaliation for Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Friday.

“President Trump promised to punish the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials who were responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedoms. Today, we are taking action to do just that,” Pompeo said.

“I am announcing visa restrictions on current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, or undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong,” he said. “Family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”

When asked if Chinese officials targeted for sanctions had been identified, a State Department spokesman would not comment beyond Pompeo’s statement.

Friday’s announcement follows the State Department’s determination last month, in a report mandated the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 and the Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act of 2019, that the city no longer warrants different treatment from mainland China.

The laws authorised the Trump administration to decide to what extent sanctions or other policy measures should be levelled on the city.

Pompeo’s announcement comes on the heels of the US Senate’s unanimous passage of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which calls for mandatory sanctions against any individuals identified as being responsible for undermining the city’s autonomy from China. That legislation now moves to the US House of Representatives.

The legislation would also require sanctions against foreign financial institution that knowingly conduct “significant transactions” ” as defined the US Treasury ” with the designated individuals.

The sanctions announcement was the latest sign of just how far the US-China relationship has fallen amid a trade war, a pandemic and generally soaring distrust between Washington and Beijing.

This week alone, the US Congress signalled that it would consider allowing Americans to sue China for Covid-19 damages, the Trump administration threatened new tariffs against China’s seafood industry, and Pompeo announced that he had agreed to join a new “dialogue on China” with the European Union.

On Friday, another bipartisan bill was announced that would create a formal programme for US government officials to study in Taiwan.

“Amidst China’s concerted campaign to isolate Taiwan on the global stage, an exchange of our most qualified public servants to the island nation of Taiwan is a visible demonstration of our unwavering commitment to Taiwan,” Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and author of the bill, said in a statement.

China responded to Pompeo’s announcement on Friday with a reply to the State Department’s posting of the move on Twitter.

The tweet on the official account of China’s United Nations delegation said that “Hong Kong affairs brook no external interference” and that the US “is the least qualified to talk about promises”.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="" Spokesperson of Chinese Mission to UN (@CHN_UN_NY) June 26, 2020” data-reactid=”33″>” Spokesperson of Chinese Mission to UN (@CHN_UN_NY) June 26, 2020

The sanctions announcement underscores the pressure Trump is facing to appear tough on China, said Allen Carlson, director of Cornell University’s China and Asia-Pacific studies programme.

“Hong Kong and sanctions, the trade war, Xinjiang, and even Taiwan, are of little consequence to this president,” he said. “Viewed from this light, these sanctions are probably best seen as yet another example of the president trying to have his cake and eat it too.”

“He wants to bolster his anti-China credentials to play to his base but, at the same time, I suspect he still is not entirely willing to admit defeat in his efforts to develop a special personal relationship with Xi Jinping,” Carlson added, referring to the Chinese president. “He still sees himself as a charmer who can close the most difficult deals.”

Under the phase one trade deal that Trump signed with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He in January ” reached in an effort to put the brakes on a trade war that started in July 2018 ” Beijing promised to buy an additional US$200 billion worth of American agricultural products over the next two years.

That pledge was reiterated last week when Pompeo and Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi met in Hawaii to discuss a number of issues between the two countries, including Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The lack of any details about specific people being sanctioned makes it difficult to gauge how hard-hitting the State Department’s move really is, said Andrew Coflan, a China analyst at the Eurasia Group.

“The move is strange,” he said. “Not announcing who is on the list is a big give to the Chinese and in some ways defeats the signalling aspect of the sanctions.”

“But this feels like only the beginning to me,” he added. “I would expect clarification around tariffs, potential Treasury sanctions and other measures to be announced over coming weeks. Although there’s always a chance things get watered down the White House again.

“Still, if I’m Beijing, I probably feel like I got out ahead on this deal so far.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.” data-reactid=”45″>This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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