HONG KONG — The United States imposed travel bans and other sanctions on 14 high-level Chinese officials over the continuing crackdown on the opposition in Hong Kong, as the police in the Chinese territory arrested more pro-democracy figures on Tuesday.
The U.S. State Department took aim at members of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, citing the officials’ role last month in authorizing the Hong Kong government to disqualify four opposition lawmakers from the city’s legislature. The ousting of the lawmakers prompted the rest of the city’s pro-democracy camp to resign from the legislature in protest.
“Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its Legislative Council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday in a statement announcing the sanctions.
“Today, the Department of State is holding accountable those responsible for these brazen acts,” the statement continued.
The sanctions targeted 14 vice chairs of the top legislative body, including Wang Chen, a prominent backer of the national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong this summer, and Cao Jianming, China’s former top prosecutor. But they avoided going after its chairman, Li Zhanshu, the country’s No. 3 leader. Going after Mr. Li would have sent too provocative a message to Beijing, said Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political analyst.
“The Americans opted for a kind of watered-down version of sanctions without seriously undermining official interactions between China and America,” Mr. Lo said.
The Trump administration has already sanctioned several officials in Hong Kong, including its top leader, Carrie Lam, the security and justice secretaries and the current and former police chiefs. Chinese officials with direct roles in Hong Kong affairs have also been sanctioned, including Luo Huining, the head of the Central Liaison Office, the Chinese Communist Party’s official arm in the city.
China has denounced the U.S. sanctions as interference in its internal affairs. “The Chinese government and people express strong indignation and condemnation toward the American side’s rude and unreasonable, crazy and vile behavior,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday.
Some Chinese officials have laughed off the sanctions. In August, Mr. Luo said that he had no assets outside China, adding: “Perhaps I should send $100 to Mr. Trump for him to freeze.”
Mrs. Lam last month alluded to the difficulties she now faces trying to use banks, though she said it was an honor to be “unjustifiably sanctioned.”
“I’m using cash every day for all the things,” she said in an interview with the Hong Kong International Business Channel. “I have piles of cash at home. The government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account.”
The latest sanctions are unlikely to slow the authorities’ crackdown on dissent, which has escalated in recent weeks with the imprisonment of Joshua Wong and two other activists, and the detention of Jimmy Lai, a prominent pro-democracy media tycoon.
On Tuesday, the police arrested at least eight opposition figures over a July 1 protest that took place hours after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong. The League of Social Democrats, a leftist political group, said that four of its members, Leung Kwok-hung, Tsang Kin-shing, Figo Chan and Tang Sai-lai, had been arrested.
The police also arrested Eddie Chu and Wu Chi-wai, both former pro-democracy lawmakers, on suspicion of organizing and participating in the same protest, according to the politicians’ official social media accounts.
On Monday, the police arrested eight people over a brief, peaceful protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong during a graduation ceremony last month. Three of those arrested were accused of inciting secession under the national security law. Protesters had chanted slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which the government has said could be seditious under the new law.
Human rights groups say the arrests show how severely the new security law has curbed peaceful political expression in the formerly freewheeling society.
“The people involved in this small protest were merely expressing their views peacefully,” Lam Cho Ming, the Hong Kong program director for Amnesty International, said in a statement, referring to the arrests over the university protest. “But this is now treated as a crime as the Hong Kong and central Chinese authorities seek to crush all forms of dissent.”
The police and HSBC, the British-based bank, also faced criticism from a former lawmaker and a pastor who said their accounts had been frozen without notice or explanation.
Hong Kong law gives the authorities broad power to freeze funds suspected of being involved in a crime, but activists say they believe the power is being misused to punish dissent.
Roy Chan, a 39-year-old pastor who led a group of older volunteers to mediate in antigovernment protests, said that his church’s HSBC bank account was frozen on Monday, along with his and his wife’s personal accounts. Mr. Chan said he had been arrested twice over protests but was released without charge both times.
“We’re in a desperate situation,” said Mr. Chan, who is now in Britain with his family. “We feel that this is a political persecution.”
Mr. Chan’s church, the Good Neighbor North District Church, said on Tuesday afternoon that one of its branches was raided by the police.
Ted Hui, a pro-democracy lawmaker, who announced last week while on a trip in Europe that he planned to go into exile, said his accounts had also been frozen.
The police said on Monday that they had ordered about $110,000 frozen because Mr. Hui was suspected of embezzling money from a crowdfunding campaign. They also said he was under a national security law investigation for allegedly colluding with foreign forces after fleeing Hong Kong. The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Chan’s case.
HSBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Orignially published in NYT.