Beijing threatens US with visa restrictions over ‘trash’ law

Washington plans to target Chinese officials undermining Asian financial hub autonomy

 Protesters celebrate in Hong Kong after US  legislation aimed at curbing rights abuses in Hong Kong. File photograph: Lam Yik Fei/New York Times

Protesters celebrate in Hong Kong after US legislation aimed at curbing rights abuses in Hong Kong. File photograph: Lam Yik Fei/New York Times

 

Chinese officials said on Monday new US legislation on Hong Kong was “trash” and warned it would hit certain Washington officials with visa restrictions, a retaliatory strike after the Trump administration said it would target Chinese officials who undermined the Asian financial hub’s autonomy.

The move comes as Chinese lawmakers are expected to impose a highly controversial national security law on Hong Kong this week, one that critics say will quell any form of dissent and have a chilling effect on the city.

Last week, the US Senate unanimously approved a Bill that would impose economic sanctions and visa restrictions against Chinese officials and Hong Kong police who were identified as undermining the city’s high degree of autonomy.

Citing the proposed national security law, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the US would target all those responsible for “eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedoms”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday the US’s “relevant legislation is trash” and claimed any effort to obstruct the passage of the national security law was “doomed to fail”.

Acts of subversion

“To target the US’s wrongful actions, China has decided to impose visa restrictions against US individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” he said, without specifying which US individual would be targeted.

The announcement comes as China’s top law-making body deliberates a draft security law for Hong Kong that will criminalise acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces, and will also allow China’s security agencies to set up offices in the city for the first time.

Chinese authorities are expected to push through the law by Tuesday despite not having publicly disclosed its full details.

Seven United Nations human rights expert bodies, the US, the EU and Britain have all expressed concerns the law could be used to target activists and stifle criticism, similar to how security laws are used to crush dissents in mainland China.

Human rights

Hong Kong’s freedoms were threatened by the legislation “that could override the laws currently protecting the city’s inhabitants from the worst excesses of state-sponsored repression”, said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty International’s China team.

The new law will “put everybody in the city at risk of arbitrary detention and unfair trial unless underpinned by measures to guarantee protection of human rights”, he said.

Wednesday marks the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover by Britain to China. Hong Kong police have refused permission for an annual pro-democracy march on the anniversary this year, citing a ban on large gatherings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, police arrested 53 people after clashes broke out during a protest march against the proposed national security legislation.

Hong Kong was embroiled in mass protests for several months last year, a movement sparked by anger at an official bid to introduce extradition legislation that evolved into a broader push for democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous city.