U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the State Department’s decision to sanction 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing’s continued clampdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
“The timing of the announcement sends a clear signal that the U.S. government remains serious about holding the Chinese government accountable,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who lead the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, on March 17.
“We will continue to speak in defense of the Hong Kong people against the oppression of an authoritarian system.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the sanctions reflect Washington’s “deep concern” about Hong Kong’s autonomy, after China’s National People’s Congress approved a draft plan earlier this month to change Hong Kong’s electoral system.
The planned changes to Hong Kong’s electoral law give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers. The move will reduce the proportion of those who are directly elected and ensures that only those determined to be truly loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office—effectively shutting opposition figures out of the political process.
The plan has since drawn international criticism that it will further cement Beijing’s control over the territory by reducing Hong Kong’s democratic representation.
Among the 24 officials sanctioned are Wang Chen, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 25-person Politburo, the Chinese regime’s top ruling group; and Tam Yiu-chung, the only delegate from Hong Kong sitting on the standing committee of the National People’s Congress.
The standing committee was responsible for drafting the CCP’s draconian’s national security law, which has allowed the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government to intensify its crackdown on local activists and opposition figures.
A total of 14 vice chairs of the standing committee were sanctioned, including Cao Jianming and Zhang Chunxian.
Additionally, several officers from Hong Kong’s National Security Division were sanctioned, including Li Wai-wah, a superintendent of the division. Edwin Lau, a deputy commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force and the head of the division, also was sanctioned.
The 24 officials joined 10 who were sanctioned in October 2020, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Xia Baolong, who heads the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
The latest sanctions represent an update to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was signed into law by former President Donald Trump in July last year. The law serves to punish individuals or companies responsible for restricting Hong Kong’s freedoms, as well as banks that do business with them.
Also on March 17, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the original co-sponsors of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, said the latest sanctions were “a necessary step to support the freedoms of the Hong Kong people.”
“The State Department’s action under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act yesterday has put foreign financial institutions on notice. Should these institutions maintain relationships with the 24 officials named in the report, they too must face strong financial penalties from the United States,” the senators stated.
Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) took to Twitter to say that the Biden administration should do more after sanctioning the 24 officials.
In response to the sanctions, the Hong Kong government accused the United States of “interfering” in the city’s affairs.
In a daily briefing on March 17, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the sanctions were a “grave interference in China’s internal affairs.” Zhao warned that China “has taken necessary countermeasures.”
China’s hawkish mouthpiece Global Times warned in an editorial published on March 17 that the United States will “run up against a stone wall” in bilateral talks if it refuses to “change its attitude.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and senior foreign policy diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage on March 18. The meeting marks the first in-person meeting between top officials of the two countries since Biden took office.
U.S. lawmakers have called on Blinken and Sullivan to be tough when they meet with the Chinese officials.