Trump Admin Ramps Up Pressure on China Over Free Speech Crackdown


China on Tuesday denounced new U.S. sanctions against four Chinese officials over a crackdown on political rights in Hong Kong, saying such moves “grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

The U.S. State Department said Monday the four would be banned from traveling to the U.S. and would have any assets in the country blocked, calling it a response for their roles in implementing Hong Kong’s national security law, which has heavily restricted free speech and opposition politics since its passage in June.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the move a violation of the “basic norms governing international relations” and urged the U.S. to withdraw the sanctions.

“The relevant U.S. behaviors blatantly meddle in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.

The U.S. has already imposed such sanctions on a number of officials, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. Washington accuses Beijing of betraying a promise to allow the former British colony to retain its own civil liberties for 50 years after its handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

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“These actions underscore U.S. resolve to hold accountable key figures that are actively eviscerating the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the State Department said in its statement.

Monday’s announcement came as Hong Kong’s 19 pro-democracy lawmakers said they would resign en masse from the city’s legislative council if Beijing disqualifies any of them.

Unconfirmed reports have said that China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee was preparing to disqualify four legislators at a meeting this week, accusing them of filibustering meetings and violating their oaths of office.

Along with sanctioning officials, the U.S. has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, prompting other countries to follow suit.

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During a visit to Beijing last week, Lam called on U.S. officials to end what she called repeated interference in Hong Kong and Chinese affairs.

“I hope that they will come back to normalcy and accept that the relationship has to be built on mutual respect and cooperation,” Lam told reporters.

Also Tuesday, a Hong Kong journalist who helped produce a documentary about the actions of Hong Kong police during anti-government protests last year appeared in court on charges of making false statements while obtaining information from a vehicle database.

Choy Yuk-ling, a producer at public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, was arrested earlier this month on charges of making false statements about why she was obtaining license plate information from a publicly accessible database.

Hong Kong police were accused of heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the pro-democracy protests and of not intervening during a violent clash between protesters and a mob of men in a subway station.

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The protests, which went on for months, were cited by Beijing as a primary justification for imposing the national security law, which Hong Kong’s own local legislature had been unable to pass on its own.

Wang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, reiterated Beijing’s reasoning in his comments to reporters, claiming the central government had been forced to step in at a time when Hong Kong’s security was under serious threat.

“The purpose is to punish those who severely undermine national security and protect the vast majority of Hong Kong residents abiding by the law,” Wang said.

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