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China Sanctions U.S. Senators over Hong Kong, Avoids Trump Administration Officials

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

China on Monday sanctioned eleven U.S. citizens, including several U.S. senators, in retaliation for sanctions Washington imposed on Chinese officials and their allies in Hong Kong for their role in stifling political freedoms in Hong Kong.

“In response to the erroneous actions of the U.S., China has decided to impose sanctions today on those individuals who behaved badly on Hong Kong-related issues,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing Monday.

The sanctions target several Republican lawmakers, GOP Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania as well as Representative Chris Smith. China also said it will sanction Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz. Beijing avoided sanctioning Trump administration officials.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman did not offer details on the sanctions.

The Trump administration on Friday announced the new sanctions on eleven individuals including Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam and Chinese Communist Party officials for their work in “implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes.”

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals named above, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC,” the Treasury Department’s announcement read.

In June, China passed a controversial national security law aimed at tightening Beijing’s control over Hong Kong.

China claims that the national security law is necessary to crack down on separatism, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention in Hong Kong. But critics and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have warned that the law, which comes after months of pro-democracy demonstrations among residents of the territory, will erase the “one country, two systems” arrangement between Hong Kong and Beijing, and will erode the civil liberties currently enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, including the right to assembly, a free press, and a judiciary system independent of mainland China.

Several individuals have already been arrested Hong Kong on charges related to the national security law.

Hong Kong police on Monday arrested pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai on charges of allegedly colluding with foreign forces, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Last month, Hong Kong denied bail to the first person charged under the law, a pro-democracy activist who was charged with terrorism after he carried a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign and drove his motorcycle into police.

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