On November 7th, the United States placed sanctions and travel bans on 14 Chinese officials over their part in diminishing and cracking down on the country’s pro-democracy movement. Last month, four opposition members were removed from the legislature after China’s parliament gave Hong Kong’s government the power to curb dissension. This generated a backlash across the pro-democracy opposition and caused mass resignations among opposition parliament members in protest. The sanctions ban the 14 officials and their family members from travelling to the U.S., block assets they own within the U.S., and ban American companies and individuals from dealing with them. Despite these efforts, it is unlikely that China’s government will stop punishing dissent; numerous activists and pro-democracy individuals have been imprisoned over the past few weeks. China has claimed the sanctions meddle in China’s internal issues and present a threat to its sovereignty.
China’s crackdown comes after the implementation of a new national security law, drafted and imposed by Beijing on the Hong Kong region. (The law itself came in the wake of Hong Kong’s 2019 protests, which evolved into a greater anti-China and pro-democracy movement that continues to steadily grow in Hong Kong.) The security law criminalizes any act of attempting to separate from mainland China, subversion of the power and authority of the Chinese government, terrorism, or collusion with foreign or external powers. Any of these acts is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison. Beijing has full power over how to interpret the law, and if there is any conflict with existing or future Hong Kong law, the Beijing law takes priority. Many fear that China will use the law to suppress any sign of dissent.
Indeed, China has been fiercely attempting to silence the pro-democracy opposition. This has grown into a larger crackdown on Hong Kong in general, as China ignores international backlash and sanctions alike. China’s relationships with numerous countries have crumbled as it continues to attack Hong Kong’s growing democratic movement.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its legislative council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition.”
Pompeo’s statement is not particularly surprising. The Trump Administration has been applying pressure on China since Donald Trump took office, and Trump himself has implemented sanction after sanction on China, in line with his staunch “tough on China” role.
The United States is not the only country concerned about China’s actions in Hong Kong, either. The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing coalition, comprised of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, said last month that the opposition members’ removal from the legislature appeared to be part of a campaign to silence China’s critics. The coalition called on Beijing to change its current track.
Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have called for foreign governments to assist their cause and hear their pleas. Human rights groups have also spoken up, saying that these arrests reveal how severely the security law is curbing political expression. It is unclear if sanctions will be enough to stop the crackdown.
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