Chen Qingqing and Fan Lingzhi
China on Thursday announced decisions to impose reciprocal sanctions against US officials in its executive and legislative branches, non-profit organization (NGO) representatives and their family members in response to the latest US sanctions on 14 Chinese deputy state-level officials.
Officials in the US executive branch are believed for the first time to be included in China’s sanctions list, the harshest reciprocal retaliation from China against Washington’s provocations so far. Observers believe that given outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the mastermind of a series of Hong Kong-bills and sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong affairs, he might be included in the Chinese sanctions list, and could be made permanent.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also announced Thursday it will revoke visa exemption treatment for US diplomatic passport holders visiting China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and Macao SAR after the US imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on more than a dozen Chinese officials. Experts believed that the move will largely reduce the room for US officials to meddle in Hong Kong affairs.
Given the US used the Hong Kong issue to severely interfere in China’s internal affairs, China decided to impose reciprocal sanctions on US officials from its executive branch, Congress and personnel at NGOs who act egregiously and bear major responsibilities on Hong Kong-related issues as well as their family members, Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a press conference on Thursday, adding that US officials holding diplomatic passports would be deprived the visa exemption treatment for visiting Hong Kong and Macao.
Such measures, considered the strongest reaction to the latest US sanctions on 14 vice chairs of the China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s top legislature, are expected to cause “real pain” to US officials who pushed forward Hong Kong related bills, playing vicious roles in turning the Chinese city into a base of subversion, which also serves as the sternest warning to the Trump administration during its “garbage time” in office and targets some major “black hands” behind Hong Kong affairs, such as Pompeo, observers said.
A quick escalation
US authorities announced on Tuesday sanctions on 14 deputy state-level officials from China’s top legislature, including Wang Chen, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, over Hong Kong affairs and passed an immigration bill that could offer safe haven to potential criminals who flee the city.
These measures quickly escalated tensions between the US and China. A spokesperson from the 13th NPC Standing Committee slammed such brutal and despicable sanctions Wednesday night, whereas NPC’s previous responses related to Hong Kong affairs were usually from its foreign affairs committee.
Such a high level of condemnation against US provocations reminded many of the then Chinese vice president’s strong condemnation of the US for the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
Imposing illegal and extreme sanctions on China’s deputy state-level leaders is severe provocations against China’s dignity, sovereignty and internal affairs. This is also ‘the garbage diplomacy’ during the garbage period of the Trump administration, severely damaging the fundamental interests of China-US relations and the interests of Biden’s foreign policy, Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University in Beijing and a member of the Beijing-based Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday.
“In line with our legitimate rights, we have to make sure those anti-China forces continue to pay the price for encroaching on China’s national interests… namely Pompeo, who has been one of the principal American officials in pushing Hong Kong-related bills,” Tian said, adding that the targeted punishment should also be permanent.
As US Secretary of State, Pompeo has been relentlessly attacking CPC for “eroding the autonomy and freedom” of Hong Kong. Deemed as the worst secretary of state in history, he not only issued sanctions on Chinese senior officials but also warned the business community potential risks of investing in the city controlled by the CPC, which he referred to as “tyranny.”
Such anti-China madness displayed by American hawks like Pompeo was widely seen by Chinese experts as the final hysteria, and China’s countermeasures are unlikely to be limited to the US State Department; they could also include the Department of Justice, Treasury, Immigration and Commerce, analysts said.
“The question is how to make them feel the pain,” Lawrence Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday. China’s latest countermeasures also included canceling the visa exemption treatment for US diplomatic passport holders visiting Hong Kong and Macao. If they need to leave Hong Kong or Macao, they need to apply for a new entry visa, which would inconvenience them.
Holders of diplomatic and official passports may visit the HKSAR visa-free for a stay not exceeding 14 days, according to the official website of the HKSAR government. And most work permit visas issued initially are valid for a one-year period.
Scrapping visa-free entry for US diplomats and targeting NGOs are aimed at reducing or limiting the activities of American officials in Hong Kong, and further restrictions may be imposed if the US government further escalates tensions, Chinese experts said.
In November, China slapped countermeasures on four US NGO officials, including John Knaus, Senior Director for Asia at the National Endowment Democracy (NED), Manpreet Singh Anand from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Crystal Rosario, NDI’s Director of HK Office, and Kelvin Sit Tak-O, the office’s project manager. Those NGOs are considered major “troublemakers” in months of social turmoil and riots that engulfed the Chinese city in 2019.
“Our latest countermeasures targeting US diplomats are more targeted measures in line with their behavior. If they, in disguise as diplomats, meddle in Hong Kong affairs or stir more trouble, Chinese authorities would issue more resolute countermeasures,” said Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
Tian also said that the current size of the US consulate in Hong Kong is not compatible with its functions, which has been engaging in affairs other than diplomatic ones. “Beijing’s gradual restrictions on an individual’s entry would ultimately lead to the consulate’s scaled down presence in Hong Kong,” he added.