The U.S. has sanctioned Hong Kong’s chief executive, its police commissioner, mainland China’s top official for the territory and other senior leaders for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly,” the U.S. Treasury announced Friday.
Like the administration’s other sanctions, these are mainly symbolic, as the 11 officials designated today have few U.S. assets to sanction. But the move seems designed to provoke Beijing again amid a cycle of retaliation and climbing tensions between the two countries.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has escalated pressure on China by moving to ban social media apps TikTok and WeChat, announcing a high-level delegation and new arms sales to Taiwan, ending Hong Kong’s special economic status and sanctioning a powerful paramilitary group and senior officials in Xinjiang, the western province where the Chinese government has conducted a mass surveillance and detention campaign against Muslim ethnic minorities.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is the most well-known name on the list Friday. As Beijing’s hand-picked leader, Lam has overseen a crackdown on democratic protesters and the implementation of a new national security law imposed by China’s National People’s Congress.
Lam has said she would “just laugh it off” if the U.S. sanctioned her, telling reporters last month, “I do not have any assets in the United States nor do I long for moving to the United States.”
Regardless of their limited economic impact, the sanctions are likely to incense the Chinese government — especially those on Xia Baolong and Zhang Xiaoming, the director and deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs office in Beijing, and Luo Huining, the head of China’s liaison office to Hong Kong who is a close ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
President Donald Trump signed into law last month the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorized these sanctions for any officials involved in implementing China’s national security law for Hong Kong.
The Treasury Department also said some officials, like Police Commissioner Chris Tang and former commissioner Stephen Lo, are being sanctioned for the crackdown on protesters in 2019, who marched in the millions against a similar national security law proposed by Hong Kong’s government.
After protests seemed to defeat that bill, which allowed for extradition from the territory to mainland China, the Chinese government imposed a more sweeping version on June 30, criminalizing subversion, secession, terrorism and “collusion with foreign or external forces” — broad categories that include any anti-government protests and even apply to foreigners outside the territory.
China has defended the controversial law as critical for halting any foreign interference in Hong Kong, while the U.S. sees it as a violation of the treaty China signed with the United Kingdom to take control of the territory but grant it a degree of autonomy for 50 years.
Citing the new law’s implementation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in May that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from mainland China and did not warrant special treatment under U.S. law, including trade, tax and export control exemptions.
“The Chinese Communist Party has made clear that Hong Kong will never again enjoy the high degree of autonomy that Beijing itself promised to the Hong Kong people and the United Kingdom for 50 years. President Trump has made clear that the United States will therefore treat Hong Kong as ‘one country, one system’ and take action against individuals who have crushed the Hong Kong people’s freedoms,” Pompeo said in a statement Friday.
With Beijing’s tighter control and without U.S. special status, analysts have declared the “death of Hong Kong.”