United States authorities are preparing to implement sanctions on several Chinese officials over their alleged involvement in Beijing’s move to disqualify elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong, marking the latest development between the two countries’ rising tensions.
Rising tensions in Hong Kong
The move would come as early as Monday and focus on select officials from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is the Trump administration’s latest attack against Beijing with only a few weeks left in his presidency before President-elect Joe Biden takes his official seat on January 20.
Two sources said that up to 14 people, including officials from China’s parliament, or National People’s Congress, and several members of the CCP, would be affected by the order. The sanctions would limit the individuals with freezing of assets and sanctioning them financially.
One anonymous U.S. official said at least a dozen Chinese officials would be affected by the sanctions. An expert on the matter said that the group of individuals would most likely include people from Hong Kong and Mainland China. However, they did not name any person or position that would be sanctioned.
During a news briefing on Monday in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “China has always firmly opposed and strongly condemned U.S. interference in China’s domestic affairs through the Hong Kong issue.”
Market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Kyle Rodda, said that the market has been anxious about Trump would seek to battle it out against China even after leaving office. The statement came after Asian stock markets gave up early gains due to fears of further deterioration of the relationship between the two giants.
Hong Kong’s Chinese financial stocks dropped 2.3% in the morning trade, marking their largest decline in the last six months.
The U.S. State Department released a warning in October that cautioned financial institutions doing business with individuals connected with China’s actions in the Asian financial hub could be subjected to similar sanctions.
In August, Washington has already placed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for alleged involvement of Beijing’s curtail of freedom in the region’s pro-democracy movement. Last month, Hong Kong’s government expelled four opposition members from its legislature. The move is the latest effort in curbing dissent across the region and caused several pro-democracy opposition lawmakers to resign.
Last month, a coalition between Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, saw China’s move as silencing critics and oppositions.
A change in administration
In November, White House national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said that the expulsion vividly showed the “One Country, Two Systems” formula, under which Hong Kong has maintained autonomy since 1997, is slowly crumbling down. Additionally, he promised that U.S. officials would immediately act, the New York Post reported.
The State Department and Treasury Department in November implemented sanctions on four more Chinese officials seated in Hong Kong’s government and security establishment. The order barred the individuals from entering the United States and blocked U.S.-related assets if they had any.
Many people expect Biden to face difficulties with Hong Kong and Beijing, which would most likely be prioritized on his foreign policy agenda. The tensions between Washington and Beijing have been at their highest in decades due to recent arguments and disputes.
Biden has previously promised to take on a more resilient approach to China’s human rights issues than Trump and other countries. The president-elect’s response to Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong could be a foretelling of his future actions against the CCP.