China on Monday sanctioned 11 US politicians and heads of organizations in retaliation for the United States imposing sanctions on Hong Kong officials last week.
The sanctioned US individuals include senators Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who had been previously criticized by Beijing, as well as heads of agencies and nonprofits such as Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz.
The 11 sanctioned individuals have “behaved badly” on Hong Kong-related issues, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing. Zhao did not specify what the sanctions consisted of.
The move comes after the US on Friday announced sanctions on officials accused of suppressing freedoms in Hong Kong, including the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Police Chief Chris Tang and Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng. The sanctions freeze their assets in the US and put severe restrictions on US people doing business with them.
The sanctions were introduced in reaction to Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law on Hong Kong in late June, and for postponing for one year elections in which the government was expected to fare poorly.
“The relevant actions of the United States blatantly intervened in Hong Kong affairs, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, and severely violated international law and the basic norms of international relations,” Zhao said.
In response to Beijing’s move, White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said US President Donald Trump would maintain a firm stance on China.
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“This president has stood firm against China and he’ll continue to,” she told the Fox News channel.
The sanctioned US senators appeared unperturbed, with Hawley tweeting: “#China announces it is sanctioning me in retaliation for speaking out against #ChineseCommunistParty and defending America’s interests. Retaliate all you want. I’m not backing down.”
“Last month #China banned me. Today they sanctioned me. I don’t want to be paranoid but I am starting to think they don’t like me,” Rubio said on Twitter.
Human Rights Watch’s Roth said Beijing’s move was “little more than an effort to distract attention from its wholesale assault on the rights of the people of Hong Kong.”
Last month, Trump signed legislation that enables the administration to sanction people involved in efforts by Beijing to “remove autonomy from Hong Kong,” which passed through Congress with bipartisan support as lawmakers increasingly grew upset with Beijing over the national security law.
The US has also revoked the special status it accorded Hong Kong, arguing the financial hub is no longer truly independent of China.
The tit-for-tat measures are the latest aspect of worsening tensions between China and the US, including over the coronavirus, China’s treatment of the Uighur minority, and a trade war that is increasingly expanding into a battle over technology companies.
The US is moving to force a Chinese tech company, ByteDance, to sell its popular social media app TikTok to a US company or face a ban in the country.
There is also a concerted effort to lock Huawei out of not only the US market, but also to stop allies from using the company for their 5G networks.
Earlier on Monday, Hong Kong police arrested media mogul and outspoken pro-democracy figure Jimmy Lai on accusations of breaching the new national security law, which introduces tough new prison terms for acts of subversion, succession, and colluding with foreigners.
Police raided the offices of pan-democratic tabloid Apple Daily, which was founded by Lai.