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The Trump administration will impose visa restrictions on some employees of Huawei and other Chinese companies who have been accused of enabling human rights abuses.
Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, said the US would restrict unnamed workers of Chinese technology companies from travelling to America.
“The state department will impose visa restrictions on certain employees of Chinese technology companies like Huawei that provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses globally,” he said on Wednesday.
The announcement was made as the US increases pressure on China over everything from its detention of more than 1m Uighurs in Xinjiang to Beijing’s decision to impose a draconian national security law on Hong Kong to stamp out the pro-democracy movement.
The move against Huawei came a day after the UK said it would ban the use of new equipment from the Chinese telecoms company in its 5G networks from December, following a US pressure campaign.
Washington is trying to make it harder for Huawei to operate around the world amid accusations that the company helps China spy. Huawei denies the claims.
“The UK joins the US and now many other democracies in becoming ‘clean countries’ — nations free of untrusted 5G vendors,” Mr Pompeo said.
But he suggested that the US would welcome quicker action. “Faster is always better to get this equipment out of their system. It’s a security risk. ”
Huawei criticised the US move, saying it was independent of the Chinese government.
“We are disappointed by this unfair and arbitrary action to restrict visas of our employees who work tirelessly to contribute to technological innovation in the US and around the world,” the company said.
Have the US and China passed the point of no return?
The Trump administration has also taken a more assertive stance on the detention camps in Xinjiang. It has imposed sanctions on senior Communist party members who, it alleges, are responsible for overseeing human rights abuses in the province.
The New York Times on Wednesday reported that the White House was considering a travel ban on members of the Chinese Communist party and their families, which would bar them from entering the US. The White House declined to comment on the report.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump signed legislation that gave him more power to impose sanctions on mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in the eroding of autonomy in the territory.
He also signed an order rescinding special privileges that Hong Kong has enjoyed as part of the “one country, two system” model that underpinned its return to China.
Louis Chan, an economist with the Hong Kong government's trade development council, said it would lobby for business to be given a grace period before the measures came into effect. “I’m sure our office in the United States will continue to explain our situation to the US administration,” he told the Financial Times.
Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, described the announcement as a “psychological blow”. US business was watching out for how extensive the sanctions would be and any reaction from China. “People are already shaken,” she said.
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As part of an intensifying campaign against China, Mr Trump has repeatedly blamed Beijing for the global spread of Covid-19, particularly as his handling of the pandemic comes under intense fire.
Most experts expect the president to take an even harder stance on Beijing in the coming months, as he bashes Beijing on the re-election campaign trail, much as he did on his way to winning the White House four years ago.
Mr Trump has stressed in recent days that he had no interest in holding negotiations with China to reach a phase two trade deal after signing a narrow agreement earlier this year.
Last week, the US president said relations between the countries were severely damaged. Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said the US-Sino relationship was facing its most challenging period since diplomatic relations were established more than four decades ago.