HONG KONG—China said on Dec. 2 it will suspend U.S. Navy visits to Hong Kong and sanction several American pro-democracy organizations in retaliation for the signing into law of legislation supporting human rights in the city.
While the nature of the sanctions remained unclear, the move appeared to back up Chinese threats that the United States would bear the costs of the decision.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “seriously interfered” in China’s internal affairs.
The law, signed last Wednesday by President Donald Trump, mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.
Along with suspending visits by official U.S. military ships and aircraft, the Chinese regime would sanction organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Human Rights Watch, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House.
Hua said that China could take “further necessary actions” depending on how matters develop.
“These organizations deserve to be sanctioned and must pay a price,” Hua said.
China has long accused foreign groups and governments of fomenting the 6-month-old demonstrations in Hong Kong, singling out the United States, former colonial overlord Britain, and democratic, self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
Among the groups to be subject to the unspecified sanctions, the National Endowment for Democracy receives funding directly from Congress, while others generally draw their running costs from a mixture of private and public grants.
Derek Mitchell, the president of the National Democratic Institute, said in Hong Kong last week that accusations it was colluding with protesters were “patently false.”
The institute has no role in the current protests, and “to suggest otherwise spreads misinformation and fails to recognize the movement stems from genuine grievances,” he said.
While China has in the past suspended visits by U.S. military ships and aircraft, sanctioning NGOs, especially those with connections to the U.S. government, would bring conditions for civil society in Hong Kong significantly closer to those in mainland China.
Beijing is deeply suspicious of all non-governmental organizations, particularly those involved in humanitarian causes, gender equality, the environment or minority rights.
Hong Kong has seen almost nonstop protests for six months demanding democratic elections and an investigation into police use of force at the demonstrations.
More than 10,000 people marched on Sunday to try to pressure the government to address the demands after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory in district council elections one week earlier.
Riot officers fired tear gas and pepper-spray balls in clashes with some of the protesters.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she’ll accelerate dialogue but hasn’t offered any concessions since the elections.