China sanctions US citizens, entities over Hong Kong in tit-for-tat move

The sanctions are the first imposed by China under its new anti-foreign sanction law, passed in June. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG/BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing announced sanctions on seven American citizens and entities on Friday (July 23) in response to a US advisory on deteriorating freedoms in Hong Kong, just days ahead of a visit from a senior Biden administration official.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have soured on a number of fronts, including human rights, trade, cybersecurity and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week, the United States warned its business community of the growing risks of operating in Hong Kong, following a clampdown by China in the major financial hub.

US government agencies led by the State Department told entrepreneurs that they face particular risks from the imposition of a draconian new security law a year ago, which it said could "adversely affect businesses and individuals operating in Hong Kong."

In a statement on Friday, China's foreign ministry said the move was designed to "groundlessly smear Hong Kong's business environment" and "gravely violate international law and basic norms governing international relations."

In response, China said it would impose sanctions on seven US individuals and entities including former US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross.

While in office Ross broadened the list of companies that cannot trade with US firms without a prior licence, including Chinese telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE.

Beijing's move comes ahead of a weekend trip to China by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, intended to address deteriorating ties between the two countries and the highest-level visit an official has made under President Joe Biden.

Others sanctioned include Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of US-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Adam King of the International Republican Institute; and Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch.

The Washington-based Hong Kong Democratic Council was also on the list.

The statement did not give details about what form the sanctions would take.

In the US advisory, the government pointed to a changing climate under the national security law and flagged the arrest of one US citizen - John Clancey, a prominent human rights lawyer.

It also warned of heightened risks to data privacy and a lack of transparency and access to information - as well as warning businesses were at greater risk of incurring US sanctions.

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