Hong Kong officials condemn and mock Trump administration sanctions
By Paul Mozur
Hong Kong and Chinese officials by turns condemned and mocked a Friday move by the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and 10 other senior officials for their roles in a prolonged crackdown on political dissent in the city.
The Hong Kong government and several of the officials targeted dismissed the impact of the penalties while also condemning them as “blatant and barbaric interference” in China’s domestic political situation. The head of China’s liaison office to Hong Kong, Luo Huining, said on Chinese media that the U.S.’ efforts were a waste because he had no holdings in the United States, adding that he could send $100 to President Donald Trump to give him something to freeze.
The condemnations and dismissals come as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated to a historical low point, and follow on the heels of a move on Thursday by the Trump administration to penalize two of the most successful apps to come out of China, TikTok and WeChat. Analysts say there is little hope relations will improve in the short term, with the U.S. election looming and many Trump administration officials determined to reset the relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
The new sanctions are the first against officials in Hong Kong and mainland China over the city’s harsh suppression of pro-democracy protests, and are yet another indication that the United States has begun to treat Hong Kong as simply another Chinese city. Last month, Trump also signed an executive order punishing China for its crackdown on Hong Kong, after Beijing imposed a national security law on the city in June that granted sweeping powers to security agencies and penalized some forms of political speech.
On Friday Treasury Department officials said that Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, was being penalized because she was “directly responsible” for enacting policies from Beijing to crush dissent in the city. Addressing the prospect of sanctions last month, Lam said she would laugh off any penalties and said she had no assets in the U.S.
In a sarcastic response posted on Facebook on Saturday, Lam questioned why, in publishing her personal details, the United States had gotten her address wrong, adding she believed it was because she’d written a previous address down in an application for a visa to visit the United States in June 2016.
“If my guess is correct, it’s worth discussing whether my personal information for visa application, handed over to the Treasury Department for purposes other than entry, has violated the protection of human rights,” she wrote, adding that she had no desire to return to the United States.
Still the sanctions are likely to hit her and other officials in less obvious ways.
On Saturday, Facebook said in a statement that it had “taken steps to prevent the use of payments services” for individuals on the list. That would mean Lam can no longer buy advertising on Facebook or any of its other apps.
Credit cards could present another problem. Even if money is kept outside the United States, funds processed by Visa or Mastercard could also be affected. Visa and Mastercard did not immediately respond to questions about the impact of the measures.
In a public letter issued to Lam on Saturday, an official at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said that the sanctions had no legal standing in Hong Kong.
The penalties stopped short of hitting the highest level of Chinese officials, who ultimately make the key policy decisions about Hong Kong. Last month, when the administration imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over rights abuses against the largely Muslim Uighur ethnic minority in the country’s west, it included one member of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo.
Hong Kong’s government hit out at the new sanctions and used them to bolster claims that the United States has been interfering in Hong Kong politics. It released a statement using rhetoric characteristic of officials in Beijing: “The U.S. government’s claim that the imposition of the so-called ‘sanctions’ was in response to the enactment of the national security law in Hong Kong is a lame excuse that could hardly stand up to challenge.”
Hong Kong’s government also took particular issue with the release of personal information, including the addresses and identification numbers of the officials penalized.
“Such a deplorable move is no less than state-sanctioned doxxing that is a serious breach of privacy and personal safety,” the government said in a statement. “We reserve the right to take any necessary legal action,” it warned, adding that Hong Kong’s government would “adopt countermeasures.”
Another official targeted by the administration, Eric Chan, said he and his family had “no fears” about the punishment. And Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, Edward Yau, said that he believed the measures would backfire against the United States, creating confusion for U.S. companies based in the city.
He called the sanctions “unreasonable and barbarous,” saying that in the long run they will harm U.S. interests in Hong Kong.
In recent months the Trump administration has taken a series of measures that have heightened tensions with China and pushed back against newly aggressive moves by Beijing to exert its influence in the region.
Last month, Trump issued an executive order that ended the special status that the United States had granted Hong Kong in diplomatic and trade relations. The Trump administration also arrested officers or affiliates of the People’s Liberation Army in the United States on accusations of fraud and banned students associated with some military institutions.
Officials also shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston, citing economic espionage efforts by diplomats there. Hitting back, Beijing forced the closure of the U.S. consulate in the central Chinese city of Chengdu.
Such tit-for-tat actions are likely to continue. In May, the administration imposed a 90-day limit on stays for Chinese citizens in the United States on journalism visas, ultimately requiring all Chinese journalists to apply for visa renewal last week. U.S. officials are expected not to renew many of the visas.