The United States on Friday slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam and 10 senior figures, in a major new step against China’s clampdown in the semi-autonomous city.
In the most significant US action since China imposed a tough security law, Lam and the other leaders of the Asian financial hub will have any assets in the United States blocked.
The move also criminalizes any US financial transactions with them.
“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was acting because Beijing had violated its promise of autonomy that it made to Hong Kong before Britain handed back the territory in 1997.
“Today’s actions send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities’ actions are unacceptable and in contravention of the PRC’s commitments under ‘one country, two systems’ and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered treaty,” Pompeo said.
Washington has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the crackdown on Uighur Muslims the region of Xinjiang region.
According to the US Treasury website, the list also includes Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, national security chief Eric Chan, current police chief Chris Tang, as well as ex-police chief Stephen Lo who oversaw the early months of last year’s protests and unrest. Security chief John Lee, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang and mainland officials Luo Huining and Zhang Xiaoming are also listed.
In June, Beijing enacted laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviours in Hong Kong that it deemed a threat to national security. The legislation was inserted into the city’s mini-constitution, bypassing the local legislature, in order to criminalise subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism. The move – which gives police sweeping new powers – alarmed democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.
In a statement on Friday, the US consulate in Hong Kong criticised the controversial new law: “[I] it was intended to silence democracy advocates and threaten those who engage in even the most routine forms of free speech… It would be an enormous tragedy if it crushed the very openness, diversity, and vitality that are at the heart of what makes Hong Kong so unique.”
Last month, Lam suspended September’s legislative elections for a year citing the Covid-19 outbreak. Democrats have said, however, that the administration acted our of concern the pro-establishment camp would face a defeat at the polls.
Additional reporting: AFP.