US sanctions 24 Chinese, HK officials ahead of talks

Published March 18, 2021
This file picture shows a Chinese and US flag at a booth during the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. — AFP/File
This file picture shows a Chinese and US flag at a booth during the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. — AFP/File

HONG KONG: The US sanctioned an additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on political freedoms in the semi-autonomous city, just ahead of the Biden administration’s first face-to-face talks with China.

The step reflects Washington’s deep concern about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy following changes to its election system endorsed by China’s ceremonial legislature last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday.

Foreign financial institutions that deal with the 24 officials would be subject to US sanctions, the State Department said.

The planned changes to Hong Kong’s electoral law give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers. The move will reduce the proportion of those directly elected and ensures that only those determined to be truly loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office effectively shutting opposition figures out of the political process.

The US announcement was made during a visit by Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea, both of which are wary of China’s growing economic, military and political heft.

The imposition of new sanctions fully exposes the US sides sinister intention to interfere in China’s internal affairs, disrupt Hong Kong and obstruct China’s stability and development, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

China will take strong measures as appropriate to resolutely defend national sovereignty, security and development interests, Zhao said.

While in Tokyo, the Blinken and Austin delivered a joint statement with their Japanese counterparts expressing concern about Beijing’s human rights violations in the western Xinjiang region against ethnic minorities and China’s determination to alter the status of a group of uninhabited islands administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. The two arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for talks.

On Thursday, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan are scheduled to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the foreign affairs chief of China’s ruling Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, in Anchorage, Alaska.

The White House has set low expectations for the meeting. A senior official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the two sides would not deliver a joint statement and no major announcements were expected.

The US has said Thursday’s meeting will be an initial opportunity to address intense disagreements over trade and human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the coronavirus pandemic. .

While President Joe Biden has sought to ease the harsh tone his predecessor took with China, his administration appears committed to taking a tough line on those issues.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2021

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