KEY POINTS

  • The sanctions will follow an executive order President Donald Trump signed in July
  • Several western powers, including the U.K. have similarly condemned China for its law in Hong Kong
  • Last week, Lam postponed Hong Kong’s September's parliamentary elections

The Trump administration  slapped sanctions on 11 Chinese officials and their Hong Kong allies Friday over their efforts to clamp down on political freedoms in the city-state by supporting and enforcing China's national security law. 

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam was among those sanctioned.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions were taken in retaliation for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong.”

“The recent imposition of draconian national security legislation on Hong Kong has not only undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy, it has also infringed on the rights of people in Hong Kong, allowing mainland China’s security services to operate with impunity in the region, mandating “national security education” in Hong Kong schools, undermining the rule of law, and setting the groundwork for censorship of any individuals or outlets that are deemed unfriendly to China,” the department added.

Aside from Lam, Treasury sanctioned Chris Tang, Stephen Lo, John Lee Ka-chiu, Teresa Cheng, Erick Tsang, Xia Baolong, Zhang Xiaoming, Luo Huining, Zheng Yanxiong, and Eric Chan.

Lam was specifically sanctioned because she is “directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes,”  Treasury said.

Tang is commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force and, according to Treasury, “has enthusiastically supported the Hong Kong National Security Law.”

As a result of the sanctions, Treasury explained, all property and assets by anyone on the list will be frozen.

“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin said.

The sanctions followed an executive order President Trump signed in July seeking to penalize China for imposing a national security law in Hong Kong that was judged to be a method to eliminate dissent on the island.

In that executive order, Trump said: “Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous to justify differential treatment in relation to the People’s Republic of China.”

Referring to the security law, Trump declared: “Under this law, the people of Hong Kong may face life in prison for what China considers to be acts of secession or subversion of state power – which may include acts like last year’s widespread anti-government protests. The right to trial by jury may be suspended. Proceedings may be conducted in secret.”

Several western powers, including the U.K. have similarly condemned China for the sweeping security legislation in Hong Kong.

The U.S. has already sanctioned a senior member of China’s Communist Party and three other officials over the alleged mistreatment of ethnic minority Muslim Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang.

A major financial hub, Hong Kong’s economy has been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as street demonstrations against China.

Bloomberg reported that Lam had earlier shrugged off any potential sanctions.

“I have no assets in the U.S., and I don’t particularly like going to the U.S. If they won’t grant me a visa, then I will just not go there,” Lam said last month.

Last week, Lam earned more criticism by postponing Hong Kong’s September's parliamentary elections for one year over fears of COVID-19. The Hong Kong government also banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from running in the elections.

BBC reported that pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong accused Lam of postponing the election to prevent people from voting for the opposition.

Lam called the measure "most difficult decision I've made over the past seven months.” She also insisted the postponement was guided by public safety concerns, not political motives.

Activist Joshua Wong wrote on Twitter that the pandemic was used as "as an excuse to postpone the election" and was "the largest election fraud in [Hong Kong’s] history."

Meanwhile, Trump has been ratcheting up his attacks on China, whom he has blamed for spreading the coronavirus.

On Thursday, he signed executive orders prohibiting U.S. residents and companies from engaging in transactions with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps within 45 days.

The White House has also proposed rules that would make it harder for Chinese companies to list on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.