The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing will place visa restrictions on Americans with “egregious conduct” over Hong Kong issues, as China retaliates against U.S. sanctions imposed in response to the controversial national security law criminalizing anti-government dissent in the semi-autonomous region.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian announced the new measures in front of reporters at a daily press briefing Monday, Reuters reported. Zhao did not say which U.S. individuals would be affected.
“The U.S. is attempting to obstruct China’s legislation for safeguarding national security in the HK SAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] by imposing the so-called sanctions, but it will never succeed,” Zhao said.
“In response … China has decided to impose visa restrictions on U.S. individuals with egregious conduct on HK-related issues,” he told reporters.
President Donald Trump’s administration is standing with pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong who for the past year have been pushing back against Chinese political encroachment in the former British colony.
They warn that Beijing is undermining the “one country, two systems” agreement under which the territory has been governed since the 1997 handover.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration handover agreement provided Hong Kongers with more political freedoms than their mainland compatriots and is supposed to maintain Hong Kong’s market economy and way of life until 2047.
But the proposed national security law—currently being deliberated by senior Chinese lawmakers—appears designed to eliminate any anti-government dissent.
The Chinese Communist Party and pro-Beijing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam have framed anti-government opposition as a result of foreign meddling exacerbated by terrorists and rioters. Around 9,000 people have been arrested for involvement in protests since mass marches erupted last summer.
The national security law was approved by the Chinese National People’s Congress—the annual meeting of top CCP officials to rubber stamp regime policy—in June, prompting fresh protests in Hong Kong.
The territory’s Legislative Council—which includes a minority of pro-democracy representatives—will be circumvented and will have no power to stop the legislation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the U.S. would impose visa restrictions on “current and former” CCP officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
Officials’ family members may also be targeted by sanctions, Pompeo said, accusing the CCP of “eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedoms.”
Also last week, U.S. senators approved legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on individuals or companies helping to restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy. This includes sanctions on banks used by anyone supporting the degradation of political freedom in the territory.
Zhao said Beijing has lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. over the proposed bill and said China will retaliate with strong countermeasures.