The US government has issued fresh sanctions on four government officials deemed responsible for a crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, expanding a list that has also targeted the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in response to a national security law imposed there by Beijing.
“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong-based officials continue to dismantle the promised autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong through politically motivated arrests,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday. The latest sanctions are “in connection with implementing the PRC-imposed National Security Law and threatening the peace, security, and autonomy of Hong Kong”.
The latest sanctions name Edwina Lau Chi-wai, who heads Hong Kong’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security, which is tasked with formulating national security policies; Li Jiangzhou, a deputy director of China’s Office for Safeguarding National Security; and Hong Kong Police Force senior superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah.
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Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, a cabinet-level body in Beijing’s government that serves as a liaison in Hong Kong, is also named. The office’s director, Luo Huining, was on a list of 10 other local and mainland Chinese officials, including Lam, issued by the US Treasury Department in August.
On November 1, Hong Kong police arrested seven opposition activists, including four lawmakers, on charges of contempt and interference with Legislative Council officers during a meeting in May that descended into shouting and scuffles.
The seven, including Democratic Party lawmakers Wu Chi-wai, Helena Wong Pik-wan and Andrew Wan Siu-kin, were accused of disrupting Legco’s House Committee meeting on May 8.
That meeting fell into chaos as 11 opposition lawmakers were thrown out by pro-establishment leader Starry Lee Wai-king, who took control of the committee to begin clearing a backlog of bills for review – a surprise move pan-democrats criticised as an abuse of power. She was later re-elected chairwoman of the committee.
The arrests “underscore US resolve to hold accountable key figures that are actively eviscerating the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy”, Pompeo said.
Beijing’s national security law for the city was imposed with immediate effect on June 30. Under the law, behaviours that are considered acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with external forces to threaten national security are punishable with sentences ranging up to life in prison.
Under the economic sanctions, brought by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US-based assets of individuals or entities are blocked and Americans and businesses are generally prohibited from dealing with them.
Besides Lam and Luo, Washington also targeted five current Hong Kong officials when the first list was announced, including the city’s justice, security, mainland affairs and police chiefs, as well as the director of the chief executive’s office.
US President-elect Joe Biden has also been strongly critical of China over human rights issues, including its crackdown in Hong Kong.
In response to earlier moves, China urged the US to cease its “wrong moves” toward Hong Kong, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reaffirming Beijing’s position that the city’s affairs were a domestic matter.
China responded with retaliatory measures against US senators and human rights activists, although Beijing has so far avoided senior White House officials.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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