HONG KONG (AFP, XINHUA) - China on Monday (Jan 18) likened outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to a "praying mantis" in a colourful condemnation of the latest US sanctions sparked by the mass arrest of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.
Mr Pompeo, one of the Trump administration's most vociferous China hawks, has spent his final days in office unveiling a host of measures targeting Beijing ahead of Wednesday's inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Among them was fresh sanctions on six officials - including Hong Kong's sole representative to China's top lawmaking body - in response to the recent arrest of 55 democracy activists under a new security law.
Those arrested included former law professor Benny Tai, who has been a key strategist for the pro-democracy camp.
"Hong Kong's development from chaos to stability is unstoppable," Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in its first response to the sanctions on Monday.
"People like Pompeo are nothing but laughable praying mantises who are trying in vain to stop the rolling wheels of history."
The metaphor stems from an old Chinese idiom that describes futility in which a mantis tries to stop a chariot with its legs.
Dismissing US sanctions as "a political trick when all other tricks are exhausted", the office urged Mr Pompeo to "wind up the show" - a reference to his impending departure from office.
Voicing strong opposition to the sanctions, a spokesman of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office called the move a serious interference in China's internal affairs.
By blatantly organising the so-called "primary election" or "referendum", Tai and others constituted a grave challenge to the constitutional order of Hong Kong, the spokesman said.
Their actions are aimed at subversion and are suspected violations of the law on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong and other laws of the city, the spokesman said, adding that the police detention and investigation are carried out as required by law and to safeguard rule of law.
On Saturday, the Hong Kong government slammed the sanctions as "insane, shameless and despicable", one of a host of recent statements from the business hub's authorities that channel the rhetoric used by the mainland.
Hong Kong was convulsed by seven months of huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019.
China dismissed the protests and has since overseen a widespread crackdown in the financial hub, including imposing a draconian security law last year that criminalises much dissent.
At least 90 people have been arrested under the new law, while many more face other charges linked to protests or campaigning for democracy.
China says it has restored stability, while critics argue that Beijing has shredded its promise that Hong Kong would maintain key liberties and autonomy when it was handed back by Britain.
The United States had previously imposed sanctions over the crackdown, including against city leader Carrie Lam, who later acknowledged that she has had to rely on cash and can no longer hold a bank account.