China will impose visa restrictions on certain United States individuals in response to Washington’s move last week to place similar limits on Chinese officials over Hong Kong.
Visa restrictions will be imposed on certain Americans with “egregious conduct relating to Hong Kong,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday.
He added that attempts by Washington “to obstruct China’s legislation for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong,” by imposing sanctions against officials in the city and Beijing “will never succeed.”
“The national security law for Hong Kong is purely China’s internal affairs and foreign countries have no right to interfere,” Zhao said.
China’s National People’s Congress is currently in the final stages of drafting the law – details of which have not been revealed – and is expected to pass it this week, perhaps even by Tuesday.
When reporters asked which “US individuals” might be affected by the new visa restrictions, Zhao said: “I believe these relevant people know that very well.”
On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would impose visa restrictions on current and former Chinese officials who “were responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedom” and were “responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
He did not name the Chinese individuals.
“Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the full implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as well as respect for human rights, are of fundamental importance. The United States will continue to review its authorities to respond to these concerns,” Pompeo said.
Visa sanctions are not as biting as economic sanctions but send a message to Beijing, and could impact the travel of the children of Chinese officials, who often attend universities in the US. These sanctions come as the US-China relationship continues to unravel.
This action comes about a month after the Trump administration declared Hong Kong no longer maintained a high degree of autonomy from China, due to Beijing’s plan to impose the new national security law on the city.
US President Donald Trump said last month that Chinese Communist Party officials would face consequences.
“The United States will also take necessary steps to sanction PRC and Hong Kong officials directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and – just if you take a look, smothering – absolutely smothering Hong Kong’s freedom. Our actions will be strong. Our actions will be meaningful,” Trump told reporters on May 30.
Law raises alarm
The national security law is expected to criminalize secession, subversion against the central Chinese government, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
It could also allow mainland Chinese security services to operate in Hong Kong for the first time and give Beijing the power to override local laws, as well as send certain defendants to mainland China for trial.
Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, has said the law will ensure “the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”
Many worry the law could be used to target dissidents, a fear that stems from China’s judicial track record.
In the mainland, national security laws have been used to prosecute pro-democracy campaigners, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists. Arbitrary punishments and secret detentions are almost unheard of in Hong Kong – but people worry this new law could change that. The South China Morning Post reported Monday, citing unnamed sources, that life imprisonment is being considered for some cases.
Critics say the law could cause increasing self-censorship in the media, the exclusion of pro-democracy figures from the city’s legislature, and threaten Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe base for international businesses.
According to a recent survey carried out by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute for Reuters, a majority of respondents opposed the law, but support for pro-democracy protests in the city has slipped.
Policing of protests has been heavy in recent months, with marches and demonstrations banned over coronavirus fears. On Sunday, police arrested 53 protesters for unlawful assembly in the city’s Mong Kok area, after a demonstration against the proposed law.
An annual anti-government rally on July 1 – held every year to mark Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to Chinese rule – has been denied police permission.
CNN’s Philip Wang contributed reporting.