China said Friday it had sanctioned seven people, including former Trump Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross, in response to US penalties imposed on Chinese officials for Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
The mutual sanctions were imposed under the new Chinese anti-foreign sanctions law passed in June. The sanctions are in response to the recent US warning to businesses about the risks of doing business in Hong Kong.
They also came days before Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to visit China, making her the most senior US official to visit China during the Biden administration.
In addition to Ross, Carolyn Bartholomew, Chair of the US-China Economic Security Review Commission, was sanctioned; Jonathan Stivers, former Executive Commissioner of the Executive Committee for China; and Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch.
DoYun Kim from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs were also sanctioned; Adam Joseph King, Senior Program Manager of the International Republican Institute and the Hong Kong Democratic Council.
Ross, a billionaire businessman and investor, did business in China. As Minister of Commerce, he was one of the faces of former President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
“I would like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Special Administrative Region and its affairs are an integral part of China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a statement. “Any attempt by outside forces to interfere in Hong Kong affairs would be as futile as an ant trying to shake a large tree.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference Friday that the US is aware of China’s latest sanctions.
“We will not be deterred by these measures and remain determined to implement all relevant US sanctions against the authorities,” said Psaki at the briefing. “These actions are the latest example of how Beijing is punishing individuals, businesses and civil society organizations for sending political signals and highlighting the deteriorating investment climate and increasing political risks in the PRC.”
Psaki said it was following China’s “baseless sanctions” of two commissioners from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in March, 28 US officials in January, and sanctions against US officials and organizations in July 2020.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The State Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Lijian said Friday that China “strongly opposes and strongly condemns” the Biden government’s release of the Hong Kong Business Advisory last week, which warns US firms are exposed to multiple risks posed by China’s extensive national security law in Hong Kong develop.
“These acts seriously violate international law and basic norms of international relations, and severely interfere with China’s internal affairs,” Lijian said in the statement.
China’s national security law was passed and condemned by Washington in June 2020 for aiming to restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy and banning critical literature by the Chinese Communist Party.
A guidebook published by the Biden administration jointly by the ministries for state, finance, trade and homeland security states that companies are exposed to the risk of electronic surveillance without guarantee, the disclosure of data to authorities and “limited access to information”.
It also sanctioned several Chinese officials with the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong for restricting autonomy on the territory.
“Beijing has damaged Hong Kong’s reputation for accountable, transparent governance and respect for individual freedoms and has broken its promise to leave Hong Kong’s high level of autonomy unchanged for 50 years,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in a statement on the advisory.
The Hong Kong warning came days after the Biden government issued a similar recommendation for businesses with businesses and operations in Xinjiang province, where there is growing evidence that the Chinese government has committed genocide and other human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities committed.
Relations between Beijing and Washington became even more strained under the Trump administration, sparking a trade war and working to ban Chinese tech companies from doing business in the United States
Biden previously said his approach would be different from that of his predecessor, saying he would work closely with allies to push back on Beijing.
The Chinese sanctions against Ross came shortly after the Justice Department refused to prosecute him for allegedly misleading Congress on census citizenship issues.