China on Thursday said it would take countermeasures to U.S. sanctions against top officials in charge of Hong Kong after Washington moved to implement laws punishing officials responsible for curtailing the city's freedoms with visa restrictions and other measures.
"The United States should correct its mistake and stop interfering," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The U.S. Department of State on Wednesday warned international banks and other institutions that they could soon face sanctions if found doing business with top Chinese and Hong Kong officials held responsible for the suppression of the city's freedoms.
Among those targeted for sanctions are Xia Baolong and Luo Huining, Chinese Communist Party officials tasked with implementing a draconian national security regime in the city since the imposition of a new law on July 1, and the city's chief executive Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong chief of police Chris Tang, security secretary John Lee and Eric Chan of the national security commission are also among the 12 listed individuals, the State Department said in its first report to Congress under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.
"The State Department notes recent concerning developments in Hong Kong, including the arrest of opposition lawmakers, the editing of textbooks to remove references to civil disobedience and separation of powers in Hong Kong, and arrest warrants issued for statements made supporting democracy in Hong Kong," the report said.
"The Hong Kong Police Force arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters and deployed pepper-spray projectiles on Sept. 6, 2020 as Hong Kong residents expressed opposition to the delay of Legislative Council elections," it said, citing also the denial of visas to potential critics of the government.
It said the authorities arrest people "on spurious charges" to prevent them from leaving Hong Kong, while Chinese state media have suggested that anyone meeting with foreign diplomats could be prosecuted for "collusion with a foreign power" under the national security law.
The 12 individuals listed in the report were already named in August, and will now face visa restrictions and exclusion from the United States, the report said.
The Hong Kong Autonomy Act allows the U.S. president to impose sanctions on individuals as soon as they are named, while sanctions on financial institutions may be imposed no longer than a year later.
Senior U.S. and U.K. politicians have criticised HSBC and Standard Chartered after the banks backed the national security law.
The U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch says the European Union hasn't done enough to support Hongkongers amid China's national security crackdown in their city, despite agreeing a raft of measures in July.
Last month, Hong Kong Watch called on the EU to implement measures that would allow Hong Kongers to work and study in Europe, and for the suspension of remaining extradition treaties with Hong Kong as a matter of urgency.
"Given the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong, with each week bringing new arrests and new attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to destroy the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and freedom of the press, the growing gulf between rhetoric and promised action risks undermining the EU’s credibility when it comes to standing with the people of Hong Kong," the group said in a statement at the end of September.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.