US Imposes Sanctions on Hong Kong Leader Over China Crackdown

A man waves Hong Kong’s colonial flag as people participate in their annual pro-democracy march on New Year’s Day. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions against the chief executive of Hong Kong and 10 other pro-China government officials for supporting Beijing’s crackdown on protesters in the semi-autonomous territory.

“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

The economic penalties against Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and others are the latest devolvement in the tense relationship between the U.S. and China. In May, the Trump administration stripped Hong Kong of its special diplomatic status in response to a Chinese national security law that bans secession and foreign interference in the region — a move widely seen as a threat to the “one country, two systems” policy put in place in 1997.

That law, which passed by a 2,878-1 vote in the Chinese parliament in May, doomed billions of trade dollars from continuing to pass between America and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters’ questions during a press conference on Friday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

The controversial law was seen largely as a response to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year, which at times descended into violence between protesters and police. The legislation’s definitions of secessionist and subversive activity, foreign interference and terrorism are very broad. China had tried to pass a similar law in 2003 but it was shelved after protesters took to the streets.   

The new sanctions were issued after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on July 14 ending the special trade arrangement with Hong Kong as a punishment to China for its acts of oppression. The order directed federal agency heads to “commence all appropriate actions” against Beijing.

Those actions include revoking export licenses from Hong Kong, ending U.S. training services for members of the Hong Kong Police Force and terminating the Fulbright scholarship program between the U.S. and Hong Kong.  

Mnuchin was given several responsibilities under the order, including adopting sanctions, rules and regulations against China. In addition, the Treasury secretary is “authorized to submit recurring and final reports” to Congress about the emergency situation declared by the order.  

Lam, leader of the pro-China government in Hong Kong, pushed last year to allow residents of the territory to be extradited to mainland China, which sparked the massive anti-government protests.    

Lam and Hong Kong Police Force Commissioner Chris Tang are accused of being the architects of the sweeping national security law. The sanctions also target Stephen Lo, former Honk Kong police commissioner, and John Lee Ka-chiu, the former security secretary for Hong Kong, as well as seven other government officials.

Any U.S. possessions of those on the sanctions list will surrendered or blocked.

“The 11 individuals designated today have implemented policies directly aimed at curbing freedom of expression and assembly, and democratic processes, and are subsequently responsible for the degradation of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the Treasury Department said.

China gained control of Hong Kong from Britain after the world power handed over the former colony in 1997, in a policy known as “one country, two systems.” The U.S. and others, however, have accused China of abandoning the agreement to take full control of Hong Kong.

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