The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials in response to the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which continued last week with the arrest of politicians and activists.
The state department sanctions target two Chinese Communist party officials involved in setting Hong Kong policy, in addition to a pro-Beijing legislator in the territory and three Hong Kong security officials in the police force.
The sanctions are the latest in a string of actions that President Donald Trump has taken against China in his final weeks in office, over everything from security threats to concerns about targeting democracy activists in Hong Kong following the move by China to impose a draconian national security law in the territory last year. It comes just five days before Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the US.
The state department said the sanctions — which bar Americans from dealing with the targeted individuals — were in response to Hong Kong’s arrest of more than 50 people on January 6 in “an appalling crackdown on pro-democracy politicians and activists who were trying to advance fair and open primary elections for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council”.
The arrests marked the latest escalation in the effort by China — enabled by the pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong — to snuff out the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony following the imposition of a national security law last year, part of Beijing’s effort to erode its semi-autonomous status.
Several of the arrested activists were former lawmakers who had resigned after four colleagues were disqualified in connection with the security law.
The state department called on the Hong Kong authorities to “immediately release or drop charges” against people who had been targeted under the national security law, including John Clancey, 79, a US lawyer and former priest, who became the first expatriate to be arrested in Hong Kong under the law.
The administration has been rushing to implement several tough measures against China before Wednesday’s inauguration of Mr Biden. Some officials want to install measures that the incoming US president would find difficult to overturn in the face of bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill for an assertive stance towards China.
This week the US put several Chinese companies, including China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Xiaomi, on separate blacklists. Xiaomi, the biggest Chinese smartphone maker, was placed on a Pentagon list of companies with alleged ties to the Chinese military, a move that prohibits Americans from investing in any of its securities.