China announces first sanctions against US in response to support for Hong Kong

Non-profits targeted in initial phase of ‘forceful’ retaliation against Washington’s backing of protesters

Gerry Shih
Monday 02 December 2019 12:53
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Protesters have welcomed the US' support after months of calling for foreign assistance
Protesters have welcomed the US' support after months of calling for foreign assistance

China said Monday it would sanction US-based non-profits including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Human Rights Watch in retaliation for the United States passing legislation in support of Hong Kong's protesters.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not give details about the sanctions or articulate how the non-profits' operations will be affected in the semi-autonomous city, where many maintain regional offices to conduct China-related work.

China will also suspend rest-and-recuperation visits to Hong Kong by US military ships and aircraft, Ms Hua said, adding that China could take further retaliatory moves.

The comments were a stark warning towards organisations that China sees as aligned with Washington - and the opening salvo in what Beijing has promised to be “forceful” retaliation to the United States for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law by Donald Trump last week.

The move could further elevate Hong Kong as a flashpoint between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese government has viewed the five-month protests to be an American attempt to foment a colour revolution rather than an outpouring of genuine anger over police conduct and declining political freedoms.

Organisations including NED, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and International Republican Institute, will be sanctioned for their “odious behaviour” in Hong Kong, where they have “strongly instigated extremely violent criminal activities”, Ms Hua told reporters in Beijing.

“They bear great responsibility for the current chaos in Hong Kong,” she said. “These organisations deserve to be sanctioned and they must pay the price for it.”

China, echoing governments including Venezuela and Egypt, has previously taken aim at NED, a group established in 1983 and funded by Congress to promote democracy worldwide. The foreign ministry in August distributed a lengthy report that named the NED as a US intelligence front and listed its history of funding political groups in Hong Kong going back 20 years.

It is not immediately clear how the sanctions would affect foundations or corporations that donate to the blacklisted non-profits. Few of the groups have staff on China's mainland.

Foreign non-profit workers inside China have long faced suspicion and a degree of vulnerability. Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat working for the Crisis Group NGO who has been detained for the past year on national security grounds, was seized in the midst of a diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Ottawa.

Peter Dahlin, a Swede, was detained in 2016 for his involvement in providing legal aid to a network of Chinese activists that the Communist Party considered subversive.

China has elevated scrutiny of foreign non-profits since the passage of an NGO law in 2017 that gave security officials broad supervision powers.

Last week, Chinese officials disclosed for the first time a police investigation conducted under the 2017 NGO law. The New York-based non-profit Asia Catalyst, which worked on HIV-related public health projects in southern China, was investigated by Beijing police and fined, the foreign ministry announced.

No employees were arrested, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Washington Post

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