China’s relationship with the United States can be restored and “kind angels can triumph over evil forces”, Beijing said on Thursday, in an upbeat statement after earlier imposing sanctions on a raft of American officials who served under Donald Trump.
As Joe Biden was making his presidential oath in Washington, China’s foreign ministry said it would ban 28 officials, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and their immediate family members from entering China. It also announced restrictions on companies and organisations associated with the officials from doing business or otherwise interacting with China.
The new Biden administration described Beijing’s move as “unproductive and cynical”.
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“Imposing these sanctions on Inauguration Day is seemingly an attempt to play to partisan divides,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement.
“Americans of both parties should criticise this unproductive and cynical move. President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to out-compete China.”
China has previously imposed sanctions on lower ranked US officials as punishment for what it called US interference in its domestic affairs over Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. But the new restrictions are the first to target senior level officials.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday the sanctions were “righteous and necessary” and that “anti-China politicians must pay a price for their crazy behaviour”.
But with cooperation from both sides, the damaged China-US relationship could be repaired, she said.
“I believe if both countries put in the effort, the kind angels can triumph over evil forces. President Biden mentioned [in his inaugural speech] that the US needs to be repaired and healed. I think the same is true for Sino-US relations,’ Hua said.
“In the past few years, the Trump administration, particularly Pompeo, has laid too many landmines that need to be cleared, and burned too many bridges that need to be repaired,” she said.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council also issued a statement accusing the sanctioned individuals of interfering in China’s internal affairs.
Diplomatic observers said the sanctions were largely symbolic as most of the officials targeted would no longer have dealings with China. But Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said they also served as a shot across Biden’s bows.
“This is a reckoning for the Trump administration. American companies and institutions with business interests in China need to think twice before they hire or work with these people,” he said.
“It is also a signal for the Biden administration. If they put sanctions on China like the Trump administration did, they will suffer from the same consequences.”
Beijing did not name all of the people on the sanctions list, so it is unknown if former US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, who took a hard line on China’s trade practices, will be affected.
Wu said China was likely to target officials who had shown hostile intentions and ideological prejudice towards the Chinese government.
“There are certain people on the Biden team who have the intention of reviving the ideological confrontation between China and the US. We need to stay alert to this tendency,” he said.
Yun Sun, director of the China programme at the Stimson Centre – a think tank in Washington – said the move by Beijing could be seen as a response to four years of animosity under Trump as well as a warning to Biden’s team.
“When we think about who are the real targets of these sanctions, not many on the list are involved in consulting businesses, but many of Biden’s foreign policy aides have been involved in Asia or China-related consulting businesses,” she said.
Biden’s Asia tsar Kurt Campbell is a former chairman and co-founder of The Asia Group, a strategic advisory and capital management group specialising in Asia. Antony Blinken, the new US secretary of state, co-founded WestExec Advisers in 2017 to support mostly US companies with their business and investment decisions around the world.
But Sun said it was unlikely Beijing’s move would have any real impact on Biden’s policymaking.
Among the guests at Biden’s swearing-in on Wednesday was Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington Hsiao Bi-khim. It was the first time a Taiwanese representative had attended a presidential inauguration as an official guest.
Horne described America’s commitment to Taiwan as “rock-solid”.
Asked about the event, Hua urged the new US administration to “cautiously and properly handle Taiwan-related affairs” and refrain from any official interaction with Taiwanese officials.
Additional reporting by Shi Jiangtao
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This article China-US relations: angels can triumph over evil and get ties back on track, Beijing says first appeared on South China Morning Post