China on Tuesday warned the United States not to travel “too far on the wrong road” in response to the latest round of sanctions levied against Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials accused by Washington of cracking down on anti-government activists.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin condemned the Trump administration for targeting four more officials, a move designed to apply further pressure on Beijing over the national security law it imposed on Hong Kong in June.
Wang slammed the US for what he called blatant interference in the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong, as well as a severe violation of international law and the basic norms of intercountry relations.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
He said the mainland government had helped the city build a legal system necessary to safeguard national security, which was under threat and seriously damaged in Hong Kong. The law, he added, targeted only a small fraction of criminals.
“China therefore strongly opposes and condemns [the US’ move],” Wang said. “We urge the United States to stop interfering with Hong Kong affairs and withdraw the so-called sanctions immediately. Do not go too far on the wrong road.”
Earlier in the day, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung had termed the sanctions “barbaric”.
“This action is entirely unacceptable, outrageous – and I will use the word ‘barbaric’ – interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” said Cheung, who is serving as acting chief executive while city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor visits Macau.
“We are not going to be intimidated by any of these actions. In fact, it’s clearly a breach of international practice, apart from international law.”
Cheung stressed the officials being targeted were obliged to safeguard national security by implementing the new law.
A government spokesman echoed the message in a statement on Tuesday night, saying the United States’ “repeated blatant and barbaric interference” in the city’s internal affairs was “another vivid example of unreasonable bullying” of mainland and Hong Kong officials who safeguarded national security.
“This will undermine Hong Kong-US relations at various levels, and is resented by many people locally and around the world,” he added.
The four additions to the list – which already included Lam – are made up of police officers and officials.
They include Edwina Lau Chi-wai, who heads the police force’s new national security unit and sits on Hong Kong’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security; Li Jiangzhou, a deputy director of the central government’s Office for Safeguarding National Security; and senior police superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah, who is under Lau’s command.
Li was awarded on Tuesday morning the Hong Kong Police Medal for Meritorious Service for his handling of the anti-government protests, which broke out last June.
The People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong-based officials continue to dismantle the promised autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong through politically motivated arrests
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Beijing’s top body overseeing Hong Kong, was also on the sanctions list.
The office’s director, Luo Huining, was among the 11 local and mainland Chinese officials first targeted by the US Treasury Department in August.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new sanctions on Monday, saying they were imposed “in connection with implementing the PRC-imposed national security law and threatening the peace, security, and autonomy of Hong Kong”.
“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong-based officials continue to dismantle the promised autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong through politically motivated arrests,” Pompeo said.
In response, deputy police commissioner Lau said it was her pride and honour to lead the police national security unit and that US efforts to target the force’s work would be in vain.
“I will continue to stand firm to safeguard national and city security, diligently and without fear,” Lau said.
Steve Li, who often gives press briefings on arrests under the Beijing-decreed legislation and did so during last year’s social unrest, said upholding national security was the natural responsibility of any police officer across the world, and that “unfair sanctions” would not stir him from his resolve.
“Serving the police force and safeguarding Hong Kong is my lifetime responsibility and honour,” Li said.
The national security law, imposed on June 30, bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Under the economic sanctions brought by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US-based assets of individuals or entities are blocked. Americans and businesses are generally prohibited from dealing with them.
In addition to Lam and Luo, Washington also targeted five current Hong Kong officials when the first list was announced, including the city’s justice, security, mainland affairs and police chiefs, as well as the director of the Chief Executive’s Office.
Responding to a series of US interventions, China urged Washington to stop making “wrong moves” in relation to Hong Kong, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reaffirming Beijing’s position that the city’s affairs were a domestic matter.
China hit back with retaliatory measures against US senators and human rights activists, although Beijing has so far avoided imposing them on senior White House officials.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government said it would suspend agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters with the Netherlands and Ireland, more than two weeks after the two countries announced they were suspending their deals with the city over concerns about the national security law.
The US, Canada, Finland, Britain, Germany, New Zealand and Australia had previously suspended similar agreements with Hong Kong.
More from South China Morning Post: