The United States Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on 11 officials from Hong Kong in response to recent moves to consolidate Beijing’s control over the territory. Coming after preparatory legislative moves, the new sanctions include Chief Executive Carrie Lam, several of Beijing’s top representatives in the city, and the local police commissioner. During widespread demonstrations in 2019, protesters reported widespread police violence and listed it as one of their major concerns. Jennifer Jacobs, Nick Wadhams, and Jenny Leonard report for Bloomberg:
Lam was sanctioned because she is “directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes,” the agency said.
The sanctioned individuals include Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council, and Chris Tang, commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force.
The 11 people will have any property and assets in the U.S. frozen. But it’s not clear whether any of the sanctioned officials will be affected financially.
Lam, who works closely with Chinese authorities, has scoffed at the prospect of being targeted by U.S. sanctions. “I do not have any assets in the United States nor do I long for moving to the United States,” Lam told reporters on July 31, adding that she would “just laugh it off” if the Trump administration sanctioned her. [Source]
Last year, amid ongoing pro-democracy protests in the city, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which established a process for the U.S. government to impose sanctions on officials responsible for human rights violations there. In late June, after the ongoing protest movement was becoming active again after a slowdown during COVID, Beijing pushed through a National Security Law, which imposes Beijing’s jurisdiction over a broad range of vaguely defined national security crimes and has effectively curtailed the free speech, independent judiciary, and political autonomy that Hong Kong was guaranteed until 2047 under the Basic Law. This move was followed by a number of other steps limiting Hong Kong’s democracy, including the delay of Legislative Council elections planned for September; the disqualification of pro-democracy candidates; the arrests of four young activists, with warrants issued for another six based overseas; and the firing by Hong Kong University of Benny Tai, a tenured law professor and pro-democracy activist.
At The Wall Street Journal, Ian Talley and Lucy Craymer report on the other officials on the list:
U.S. experts say the sanctions listings are likely not only to spur diplomatic friction but also will be seen by Western companies with Hong Kong operations as elevating their business risk. If Washington and Beijing continue their tit-for-tat actions, it could fuel a corporate exodus out of Hong Kong, those experts say.
[…] Mr. Tang was appointed Hong Kong police commissioner in mid-November 2019 as a standoff between students and police officers at universities in the city was already under way.
The siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which lasted for over a week, coincided with one of the most violent weeks of the Hong Kong protests. Mr. Tang joined the police force in 1987 and his official biography notes that he received training at overseas institutions including the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy at Quantico.
Mr. Xia, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, was once a provincial leader who upheld Communist Party authority with a campaign to tear down Christian churches and crosses. Before his appointment in February of this year, he had little experience with Hong Kong affairs. He was a deputy to Chinese President Xi Jinping when the Chinese leader was a top provincial official in the 2000s. [Source]
At BBC, Zhaoyin Feng provided analysis of the sanctions and their likely impact:
The actual personal impact on these Hong Kong-based officials may be limited if they have no financial interests in the US and no plans to travel there.
And Carrie Lam herself said recently that she is not afraid of the sanctions.
But this move is highly symbolic, as it’s Washington’s latest step condemning Beijing’s drive to curtail freedoms and democracy in Hong Kong. The former British colony has become a major point of contention between the US and China.
The world’s two largest economies seem to be going through a painful “divorce,” with a consequential US presidential election only three months away. [Source]
This move comes amid rapidly deteriorating U.S.-China relations, with a recent ban imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok and broader proposed restrictions on other Chinese technology; sanctions on several officials and companies operating in Xinjiang for their contributions to widespread human rights abuses there; a proposed travel ban on CCP members; the expulsion of American journalists from China and new restrictions on Chinese journalists and state media in the U.S.; ongoing trade disputes; tit-for-tat closures of consulates; and more.