China imposes sanctions on Wilbur Ross and six other Americans

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China has imposed sanctions on former US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and six Americans involved with human rights institutions in retaliation for a similar move by Washington against Chinese officials in Hong Kong.

The Chinese foreign ministry said that in addition to the sanctions on Ross, who served in the Trump administration, it was targeting Carolyn Bartholomew, chair of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

China also imposed sanctions on officials at the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the US-based Hong Kong Democratic Council. It did not specify what the sanctions entailed.

The move comes two days before Wendy Sherman, US deputy secretary of state, is expected to land in China for the second top-level meeting between the countries since President Joe Biden took office in January.

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It is the first time Beijing has imposed penalties under a new counter-sanctions law that allows the Chinese government to target individuals or groups that help foreign countries enforce sanctions on China.

The foreign ministry said China was responding to the recent US decision to place sanctions on seven mainland Chinese officials based in Hong Kong.

When the US issued the sanctions, it also warned American companies that they faced increased risks operating in Hong Kong as China tightened its grip on the financial hub. The Biden administration said companies should be particularly concerned about the Chinese counter-sanctions law.

“The US has concocted the so-called ‘Hong Kong Business Advisory’ to groundlessly smear Hong Kong’s business environment, and illegally imposed sanctions on several [Chinese] officials,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “In response to the erroneous practice of the US side, China has decided to take reciprocal countermeasures.”

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said the Biden administration was “undeterred” by the action and would continue to implement US sanctions against China.

“Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and bully internationally respected [non-governmental organisations] only demonstrate its further isolation from the world,” Psaki said.

The US had also announced new China sanctions two days before the first high-level meeting between the two sides under the Biden administration, which took place in Alaska in March.

Since the latest US sanctions were announced, Hong Kong has continued to target government critics. Five members of a speech therapist union were arrested on Thursday over illustrated children’s books and accused of inciting hatred against the government.

Earlier this week, more executives from Apple Daily, the pro-democracy tabloid that was shut under pressure from China, were charged under the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong last year as part of its effort to crack down on the pro-democracy movement in the territory.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, on Friday said Hong Kongers had not lost any freedoms since the legislation was passed. “If you look at the stock market, the property market, and the technology sector, the start-ups, even arts and culture now, they are all booming.”

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