US sanctions Hong Kong leader, officials

Deb Reichmann and Matthew LeeAAP
The US has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Camera IconThe US has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong officials including Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

The US has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong officials, including the pro-China leader of the government, accusing them of cooperating with Beijing's effort to undermine autonomy and crack down on freedom in the former British colony.

The sanctions on Friday are the latest in a string of actions the Trump administration has taken targeting China as tensions between the two nations rise over trade, COVID-19 and other issues.

President Donald Trump's offensive against China comes as he assigns full blame to Beijing for the coronavirus outbreak in the US, deflecting criticism of his own handling of the pandemic that threatens his re-election.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions on Carrie Lam, the leader of the government in Hong Kong, and 10 other officials. The sanctions were authorised by an executive order that Trump signed recently to levy penalties against China for its efforts to curtail anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has long enjoyed civil liberties not seen in mainland China because it is governed under a "one country, two systems" principle in place since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

However, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong earlier this year, raising widespread concerns about the Chinese government cracking down on the anti-government protests.

"The recent imposition of draconian national security legislation on Hong Kong has not only undermined Hong Kong's autonomy, it has also infringed on the rights of people in Hong Kong," the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Treasury said the new law has allowed authorities in mainland China to operate with impunity in Hong Kong, has mandated "national security education" in Hong Kong schools, undermined the rule of law and laid the groundwork to censor individuals and outlets "deemed unfriendly" to China.

The US said Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, is "directly responsible for implementing Beijing's policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes".

Last year, Lam pushed to allow citizens to be extradited to the mainland, setting off massive opposition demonstrations in Hong Kong, according to Treasury.

A Hong Kong official called the sanctions "unreasonable and barbarous" and said they would harm US interests in the city, an Asian financial and shipping hub.

"I do not find any valid reason for this blatant interference of Hong Kong affairs by a foreign country," Commerce Secretary Edward Yau told reporters.

Also sanctioned was Chris Tang, the commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force, for allegedly "coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals" under the new security law, and the former police commissioner, Stephen Lo.

Friday's action blocks all property or other assets that the individuals have within US jurisdiction.

On Thursday, Trump ordered a sweeping but unspecified ban on dealings with the Chinese owners of the consumer apps TikTok and WeChat.

The Trump administration has expressed concern that Chinese social media services could provide American users' personal information to Chinese Communist authorities.

TikTok, a company owned by Beijing-headquartered ByteDance Ltd. that has 100 million users in the United States and hundreds of millions worldwide, said it doesn't store American user data in China, has not given information to Beijing or censored content at the Chinese government's request. WeChat denied comment.

The Trump administration already was embroiled in a tariff war with Beijing over China's technology ambitions.

Washington has blocked acquisitions of some US assets by Chinese buyers and, due to security concerns, has cut off most access to American components and other technology for Huawei Technologies Ltd, a maker of smartphones and network equipment that is China's first global tech brand.

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