China to impose tit-for-tat visa restrictions on US officials over Hong Kong

Visa restrictions will be imposed on certain Americans who “behave in a blatant manner regarding Hong Kong,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday.

He added that Washington’s attempts to “obstruct Chinese law to safeguard national security in Hong Kong” by imposing sanctions on city and Beijing officials “will never succeed”.

“Hong Kong’s national security law only affects China’s internal affairs and foreign countries are not allowed to intervene,” said Zhao.

The Chinese National People’s Congress is currently in the final stages of drafting the law – details of which have not been released – and is expected to be passed this week, possibly even Tuesday.

When journalists asked which “American individuals” might be affected by the new visa restrictions, Zhao said: “I think these people know this very well.”

American sanctions

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that the United States would impose visa restrictions on current and former Chinese officials who “were responsible for the gutting of Hong Kong freedom” and were “responsible, or accomplices , to undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. “

He did not name the Chinese.

“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. The United States will continue to review its authorities to address these concerns, “said Pompeo. .

Visa sanctions are not as harsh as economic sanctions, but they do send a message to Beijing and could have an impact on the travel of children of Chinese government officials, who often attend American universities. These sanctions come as US-China relations continue to collapse.

The move comes about a month after the Trump administration declared that Hong Kong no longer maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, due to Beijing’s plan to impose the new national security law on the city.

US President Donald Trump said last month that Chinese Communist Party officials would face consequences.

“The United States will also take the necessary steps to punish officials from the PRC and Hong Kong directly or indirectly involved in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and – just if you look at it, stifling – absolutely stifling freedom of Hong Kong. Our actions will be strong. Our actions will be meaningful, “Trump told reporters May 30.

A government announcement (C) promoting China's planned national security law is displayed on the Hong Kong City Hall building on June 29, 2020.

The law sets off the alarm

The national security law should criminalize secession, subversion against the Chinese central government, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.

It could also allow the Chinese mainland security services to operate in Hong Kong for the first time and give Beijing the power to overrule local laws, as well as send some accused to mainland China to be tried.

Carrie Lam, the city’s general manager, said the law would ensure “Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.”

Many fear that the law could be used to target dissidents, a fear that stems from China’s criminal record.

On the continent, national security laws have been used to prosecute democracy activists, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists. Arbitrary punishments and secret detentions are almost unknown in Hong Kong – but people fear that this new law may change that. The South China Morning Post reported on Monday, citing anonymous sources, that life imprisonment is being considered in some cases.

Critics say the law could cause growing media self-censorship, the exclusion of pro-democracy figures from the city’s legislature, and threaten Hong Kong’s reputation as a secure base for international business.

According to a recent survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute for Reuters, the majority of those polled opposed the law, but support for demonstrations for democracy in the city has declined.

Police for the protests have been intense in recent months, with marches and demonstrations banned due to fears linked to coronaviruses. Police arrested 53 protesters for an illegal rally in the Mong Kok neighborhood on Sunday after a protest against the bill.

An annual anti-government rally on July 1 – held annually to mark the transition from Hong Kong in 1997 to Chinese rule – was not authorized by the police.

Philip Wang of CNN contributed to the report.

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