China yesterday said it would suspend US Navy visits to Hong Kong and sanction several US-based pro-democracy organizations in retaliation for the signing into law of legislation supporting human rights in the territory.
While the nature of the sanctions remained unclear, the move appeared to back up Chinese threats that the US would bear the costs of the decision.
The steps are “in response to the US’ unreasonable behavior,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said, adding that the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “seriously interfered” in China’s internal affairs.
“China urges the United States to correct its mistakes and stop any words and deeds that interfere in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs,” she said at a daily briefing in Beijing.
The law, signed on Wednesday by US President Donald Trump, mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.
China would sanction organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Human Rights Watch, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and others that Hua said had “performed badly” in the Hong Kong unrest.
“China urges the United States to correct its mistakes and stop any words and deeds that interfere in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs,” Hua said, adding that China could take “further necessary actions” depending on how matters develop.
Hua accused the groups of instigating protesters to engage in “radical violent crimes and inciting separatist activities.”
“These organizations deserve to be sanctioned and must pay a price,” Hua said.
She did not provide details on how China would sanction the groups, which are already restricted from operating in China.
“This seems to be an empty threat, because these groups don’t operate inside mainland China,” Patrick Poon (潘燊昌), a Hong Kong-based China researcher at Amnesty International, told Bloomberg. “But if there are more tangible threats on staffers and representatives for these organizations operating in Hong Kong, it would be a serious clampdown on freedom of expression.”
The National Endowment for Democracy receives funding directly from the US Congress, while others generally draw their running costs from a mixture of private and public grants.
While China has in the past suspended visits by US military ships and aircraft, sanctioning NGOs, especially those with connections to the US government, would bring conditions for civil society in Hong Kong significantly closer to those in mainland China.
Meanwhile, several hundred people in Hong Kong who work in advertising yesterday started a five-day strike to show support for anti-government protests, saying that they would not go to work, respond to work e-mails or take part in conference calls.
Some held up signs with protest slogans as they listened to speakers at an early afternoon rally to launch the action in Chater Garden.
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