US sanctions 24 more Chinese and Hong Kong officials ahead of China talks

The report identified 24 China and Hong Kong officials whose actions have reduced Hong Kong's autonomy. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The United States sanctioned an additional two dozen Chinese and Hong Kong officials on Tuesday (March 16) over China's overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system.

This comes as American and Chinese envoys were due to meet in Alaska for first talks since President Joe Biden took office.

Beijing's move unilaterally undermines Hong Kong's electoral system and is in breach of its obligations to uphold the territory's autonomy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the punitive action.

The electoral reforms were approved at a meeting of China's top legislature last Thursday and are the latest in Beijing's crackdown on political freedoms and dissent in Hong Kong following the citywide democracy protests of 2019 that turned violent.

"This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance, a move that the United Kingdom has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration," said Mr Blinken.

Under America's Hong Kong Autonomy Act, the State Department is required to identify individuals responsible for eroding the city's political freedoms.

Tuesday's update brings the total number of individuals sanctioned for reducing Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy to 34.

They include 14 vice-chairs of the National People's Congress Standing Committee and officials in the Hong Kong Police Force's National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.

Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with them are subject to sanctions.

"The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong, and we will respond when the PRC fails to meet its obligations," said Mr Blinken, using the formal name of the People's Republic of China.

He and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are set to meet top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday.

The US has said it will raise its concerns at the high-level talks over the following: China's undermining of Hong Kong autonomy, its repression of Muslims in Xinjiang, economic coercion of Australia and aggressive activity in the Taiwan Strait.

Tuesday's sanctions come as Mr Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in South Korea - after a stop in Japan - as part of their first Asia tour to reinvigorate and rally Asian alliances to counter a rising China.

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