China Threatens to Restrict Visas for U.S. Critics of Its Moves Against Hong Kong

By Patrick Goodenough | June 29, 2020 | 8:46pm EDT
The National Peoples Congress meets in plenary session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)
The National Peoples Congress meets in plenary session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

(Update: Adds Pompeo comment)

( – China’s rubber-stamp legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a controversial national security law for Hong Kong, after Beijing announced it will deny visas to U.S. officials who have been interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Hong Kong media outlets reported that the National People’s Congress (NPC) approved the law unanimously, one day before the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s return to China.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a briefing the visa ban will be enforced against those who have behaved “egregiously” on Hong Kong-related issues.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – himself a potential target – called the threat “the latest example of Beijing’s refusal to accept responsibility for breaking its commitment to the people of Hong Kong.”

“We will not be deterred from taking action to respond,” he added.

The tit-for-tat move came three days after Pompeo announced the U.S. was imposing visa restrictions on “current and former” Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials responsible for or complicit in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.  Family members may also be affected he said. No names were made public.

Zhao did not name those China plans to target, saying merely that Americans who fall in that category “know very well” who they are.

The CCP organ Global Times offered some names of administration officials and lawmakers who could find themselves barred.

They include Pompeo, Assistant Secretary David Stilwell of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and leading China critics in Congress including Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

The newspaper also threw in the name of a diplomat at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, who has angered Beijing by engaging with leading figures in Hong Kong’s opposition movement. (The State Department last summer criticized Chinese state media for identifying the diplomat, revealing her personal and family details, including the names of her children.)

Van Hollen was a lead sponsor of a Hong Kong-related sanctions bill that passed unanimously last week; Cotton and Pelosi have been outspoken critics of China’s actions in the territory, as have Cruz and Hawley, who met with pro-democracy campaigners during visits to Hong Kong last fall; Rubio’s landmark Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which passed last year with near-unanimous support, requires the secretary of state to certify to Congress annually whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” to merit special U.S. trading privileges. Pompeo last month informed Congress that the territory no longer meets that standard.

‘They have betrayed Hong Kong and their country’

Zhao announced the planned visa restrictions shortly before the NPC was reported to have given final approval for legislation designed to prohibit secession, subversion against the central government, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign forces in Hong Kong.

The U.S. and other critics accuse Beijing of stifling freedoms in Hong Kong, in violation of the “one country, two systems” agreement under which the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. Hong Kong was promised a “high degree of autonomy” from the communist-ruled mainland for 50 years.

China argues that it needs to impose the law because unruly elements – spurred on, it says, by U.S. agitators – have long prevented attempts by the territory’s Beijing-backed authorities to pass security legislation themselves. Hong Kong has witnessed waves of massive protests, some marred by violent flare-ups.

Riot police arrest pro-democracy protesters ahead of a protest rally in Hong Kong on Sunday against China’s proposed new security law. (Photo by Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)
Riot police arrest pro-democracy protesters ahead of a protest rally in Hong Kong on Sunday against China’s proposed new security law. (Photo by Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)

Global Times cited “experts” as suggesting that actions such as calling for Hong Kong’s independence, or waving foreign flags during protests as a way of calling for outside support, would likely fall under the offense of secessionism and be punishable.

“Hong Kong has returned to China, but a handful of extremists are willing to be pawns of anti-China force of the U.S.” it said in a separate editorial. “They have betrayed Hong Kong and their country. They have made the wrong bet, and now it’s their last chance to stop their wrongdoings before it’s too late.”

In a new action on Monday, Pompeo announced an end to the export of U.S.-origin defense equipment to Hong Kong, putting the city in the same category for those exports as mainland China.

“We can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China,” he said. “We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the CCP by any means necessary.”

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