China opposes US' visa curbs on CCP officials over HK's autonomy

Restrictions seen as symbolic, but could presage sanctions over Beijing's national security law

Union members submitting petition letters opposing China's national security legislation to a US consulate representative (far left) in Hong Kong on Friday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington will restrict visas to Chinese Communist Pa
Union members submitting petition letters opposing China's national security legislation to a US consulate representative (far left) in Hong Kong on Friday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington will restrict visas to Chinese Communist Party officials it deems responsible for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy and that the curbs may apply to "current and former CCP officials". PHOTO: EPA-EFE

China has firmly opposed the United States' decision to impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong-related issues, urging Washington to stop interfering in China's internal affairs.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the US said on Friday: "We urge the US side to immediately correct its mistakes, withdraw the decisions and stop interfering in China's domestic affairs.

"(We) will continue to take strong measures to uphold national sovereignty, security and development interests," said the spokesman.

"Legislating on national security is the power and obligation of the central government, and also an international practice."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said the US will restrict visas to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials it deems responsible for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy.

Mr Pompeo said the curbs apply to "current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy", and may include their family members.

The move is seen as largely symbolic, but could be a harbinger of sanctions aimed at dissuading Beijing from moving ahead with a national security law for Hong Kong which has become yet another flashpoint in US-China relations.

The coming legislation, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and "collusion with foreign and external forces to endanger national security", is seen by Washington as a sign that Beijing is eroding the territory's freedoms guaranteed by international law.

"Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and the full implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as well as respect for human rights, are of fundamental importance," said Mr Pompeo.

The US will continue to review its authorities to respond to these concerns, he said.

The Chinese Embassy spokesman said the legal basis for the Chinese government to govern Hong Kong is China's Constitution and the Basic Law, not the Sino-British Joint Declaration. As China resumed rule over Hong Kong in 1997, all rights and obligations of the British side as prescribed in the Joint Declaration were completed.

UPHOLDING NATIONAL INTERESTS

(We) will continue to take strong measures to uphold national sovereignty, security and development interests. Legislating on national security is the power and obligation of the central government, and also an international practice.

A SPOKESMAN FOR THE CHINESE EMBASSY IN THE UNITED STATES

The spokesman also said the legislation will improve Hong Kong's legal system, bring more stability to Hong Kong, and contribute to the practice of "one country, two systems" as well as Hong Kong's long-term prosperity and stability.

A spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong firmly opposed the visa restrictions on Chinese officials, and urged the US to "immediately correct its mistakes and stop interfering with bullying tactics in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs".

"Otherwise, China will vigorously hit back," said the spokesman.

The White House and Congress have signalled their willingness in recent months to punish China for advancing with the national security legislation, moving on several fronts to support Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

Last month, Mr Pompeo certified that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous from Beijing, and President Donald Trump announced that the US would end its preferential treatment of Hong Kong as a Customs and travel territory separate from the rest of China.

 
 
 
 

On Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a Bill that would sanction Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong's autonomy, as well as the banks and companies that do business with them. The Bill must next be passed by the House of Representatives and be signed by the President.

In practice, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration's restrictions on flights and travellers from China mean that few Chinese officials are visiting the US at the moment anyway, limiting the number of people whose entry the US can ban.

Strained US-China relations also limit the efficacy of the move.

"I think the chance of them being allowed to visit the US by the Chinese authorities is pretty thin at this point, especially given the political environment," the Stimson Centre's China programme director Yun Sun told The Sunday Times.

The State Department on Friday did not name the officials who would be hit by the visa restrictions.

But Ms Sun said the wording of Mr Pompeo's announcement did not seem to apply to officials in Hong Kong's government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline 'China opposes US' visa curbs on CCP officials over HK's autonomy'. Subscribe