WASHINGTON (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - The United States on Friday (Aug 7) slapped sanctions on Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam and 10 senior figures, in a major new step against China's clampdown in the semi-autonomous city.
"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 Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Lam was sanctioned because she is "directly responsible for implementing Beijing's policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes", the Treasury Department said.
The 11 sanctioned individuals will have any property and assets in the US frozen. The other 10 officials are Chris Tang, Stephen Lo, John Lee, Teresa Cheng, Erick Tsang, Xia Baolong, Zhang Ziaoming, Luo Huining, Zheng Yanxiong and Eric Chan.
Lam, who works closely with Chinese authorities, has scoffed at the prospect of being targeted by US sanctions.
"I do not have any assets in the United States nor do I long for moving to the United States," Lam told reporters on July 31, adding that she would "just laugh it off" if the Trump administration sanctioned her.
The sanctions are being carried out under an executive order President Donald Trump signed last month seeking to punish China for its moves against dissent in Hong Kong.
Trump has been threatening to take action ever since Chinese officials imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong over the last two months.
China's implementation of the law, and the reaction of major trading partners who have criticised it, could have a substantial impact on a Hong Kong economy already battered by months of often-violent anti-government protests and coronavirus restrictions.
Last week, authorities in Hong Kong drew new red lines on the limits of dissent in the financial centre, barring a dozen activists from seeking office and arresting four others over social media posts.
The back-to-back actions highlighted how much the national-security law has strengthened Beijing's hand.
The US has already sanctioned a top member of China's ruling Communist Party and three other officials over the alleged human rights abuses against ethnic minority Muslims in the far west region of Xinjiang.
Sanctioning the Chinese officials mark yet another blow by Trump against Beijing, as he escalates his confrontation with the world's second-largest economy heading into the November election.
A tough stance towards China has emerged as a key argument to voters for Trump, who's trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in national polls.
Late Thursday, Trump signed a pair of executive orders barring US residents and companies from doing business with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps beginning 45 days from now, citing the national security risk of leaving Americans' personal data exposed.
While WeChat has not been widely adopted in the US, the ban would have broad implications because it is used by more than a billion people and is central to business and social communications with China.