Last week, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which had earlier been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The act would impose penalties on the Chinese government for various acts of repression in Hong Kong while also requiring an annual review of Hong Kong’s freedoms. From Paul LeBlanc and Steven Jiang at CNN:
The new law will require the US to annually confirm that Hong Kong’s special freedoms are being maintained by Beijing — failure to do so could result in Washington withdrawing the city’s special status, a massive blow to the Hong Kong economy.
The bill also lays out a process for the President to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on those who are found to be knowingly responsible for arbitrary detention, torture and forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong, or other violations of internationally recognized human rights in the Asian financial hub.
However, the US President’s statement also indicated the administration would only enforce parts of the measure — as it interferes with the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
“Certain provisions of the Act would interfere with the exercise of the President’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the United States. My Administration will treat each of the provisions of the Act consistently with the President’s constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations,” the White House said in a statement. [Source]
In response to the act’s passage, crowds gathered in Hong Kong’s Chater Garden Sunday to express thanks to the United States. The Chinese government, meanwhile, lashed out at the U.S. for “interfering in China’s internal affairs” and announced sanctions on five U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy (a funder of CDT), Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which it said had played an “egregious role” in the Hong Kong protests:
#SanctionsAnnounced: In response to US enactment of #HongKongHumanRightsandDemocracyLaw, China will suspend visits by US warships and aircraft in Hong Kong. Five NGOs, including NED, will be sanctioned. Due price to pay for inciting separatist activities! pic.twitter.com/h3PHiH1AWy
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) December 2, 2019
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not give details about the sanctions or articulate how the nonprofit groups’ operations will be affected in the semiautonomous city, where many maintain regional offices to conduct China-related work.
China also will suspend rest-and-recuperation visits to Hong Kong by U.S. military ships and aircraft, Hua said, adding that further moves are possible.
The comments were a stark warning to organizations that China sees as aligned with Washington — and the first salvo in what Beijing has promised will be “forceful” retaliation against the United States for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump last week.
The move could further elevate Hong Kong as a flash point between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese government has viewed the five-month protests in Hong Kong as an American attempt to foment a “color revolution” rather than an outpouring of genuine anger over police conduct and declining political freedoms in the territory. [Source]
The Chinese government has consistently blamed “foreign interference” for the protests in Hong Kong, which have been ongoing for almost six months. In August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to foreign media in Beijing, accompanied by a 42-page supporting document, which pushed the government’s line that the Hong Kong protesters were “radical” and “violent,” and singled out NED for supporting civil society groups in the territory.
The New York Times’ Amy Qin reports that the retaliatory measures from Beijing may be largely symbolic, as China and the U.S. focus on ongoing trade negotiations:
China has responded to the new legislation with strong rhetoric, but the measures announced Monday suggested that Beijing was unwilling to let the dispute spill over into its trade negotiations with the United States.
It was unclear what impact, if any, the sanctions would have on the groups China has singled out for punishment. Most of the organizations Ms. Hua named do not have offices in mainland China. Foreign nongovernmental groups have already been subject to growing Chinese government pressure since 2016, when the country passed a wide-reaching law strictly regulating their operations in the country.
China has also previously denied permission to American naval vessels to dock in Hong Kong at times of heightened tensions between the two countries, most recently in August.
“It’s nothing new,” said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I think the major purpose of this is rhetorical: to try to convince the world that the U.S., whether it’s the C.I.A. or the N.G.O.s, is trying to foment a color revolution in Hong Kong.” [Source]
This post doesn’t make sense. China’s going to impose sanctions on so-named NGOs which aren’t allowed to operate in China in the first place? It’s like China saying it’s going to censor international media like The NY Times which you can’t read in China anyhow. https://t.co/higR8bZzeO
— Shawn Shieh (@profshawn) December 2, 2019
The Chinese govt says Human Rights Watch "incited…extreme violence" in #HongKongProtests. These allegations are baseless. https://t.co/s7blLgQpAi @hrw support human rights in Hong Kong & the HongKongers who defend them. See our official statement from @KenRoth pic.twitter.com/BYBbvieY2t
— Maya Wang 王松莲 (@wang_maya) December 2, 2019
China’s mission to the U.N., meanwhile, accused United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet of emboldening “radical violence” after she wrote an op-ed in the South China Morning Post calling on the Hong Kong government to engage in dialogue with protesters and to investigate police violence.
The NGO sanctions over Hong Kong come soon after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ announcement last week that Asia Catalyst would be the first foreign NGO to be investigated for violating the Foreign NGO Management Law, which was passed in 2017. Upon its passage, there was widespread concern in the foreign NGO community about a potential crackdown on their ability to work in China. From Siodhbhra Parkin at SupChina:
According to the MFA statement, Asia Catalyst will face administrative penalties in accordance with the Overseas NGO Law and other relevant laws and policies. In the case of the Overseas NGO Law, these penalties may include cancellation of activities, fines, and — in severe cases — detention of employees and loss of eligibility to work in China for up to five years.
Previously, the only known penalty issued under the Overseas NGO Law involved the administrative detention of a Hong Kong resident accused of organizing activities without a proper permit in Shenzhen. [Source]