The sanctions were introduced under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act (HKAA), which was passed by the US last year in response to the imposition of the repressive national security law in the city, reported CNN.
Among those sanctioned are Wang Chen, a member of the 25-person Politburo, one of China‘s top decision-making bodies, and Tam Yiu-chung, the only Hong Konger on the committee that drafted the national security law.
“Today’s update identifies 24 People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong officials whose actions have reduced Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, including 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,” said Blinken in a statement
The State Secretary said that China’s move to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to the people in Hong Kong and denies people a voice in their own governance, adding that the United Kingdom has declared this as a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“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,” he added.
Meanwhile, CNN reported that Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, who was previously sanctioned under the HKAA, has said the move effectively cut her out of the global banking system, forcing her to stockpile cash because banks will not do business with her.
Wednesday’s sanctions come as Hong Kong’s legislature is due to consider a new bill laying out a “patriotism” test for those standing for election, which is expected to limit most members of the traditional opposition.
Earlier, senior US and Japanese officials during high-level security talks on Tuesday discussed their shared concerns over China’s “disruptive” activities in the Indo-Pacific region and committed to opposing coercion behavior toward others in the region.
Beijing has yet to respond to the new sanctions, but there was immediate speculation among observers that this aggressive move by Washington ahead of the meeting could result in its cancellation, reported CNN.
Less than a year after imposing the draconian National Security Law, China last week had launched a legislative process for drastic electoral system reform in Hong Kong, which could benefit the pro-establishment camp and further quash the political opposition in the city.
The Election Committee will be expanded to add these 300 Beijing loyalists and the Legislative Council will also be expanded to 90 seats from 70.
Although Chinese officials have insisted that the measures are necessary to establish a ‘democratic electoral system with Hong Kong characteristics’, critics have warned that it would limit the space for the opposition in the city and roll back years of effort to liberalise the system.