China imposes sanctions on US citizens, rights groups under new law

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China said on Friday that it has imposed counter-sanctions on U.S. individuals including former U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in response to recent U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong.

The sanctions are the first imposed by China under its new anti-foreign sanction law, passed in June, and come days before U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to visit China amid deeply strained ties.

China also imposed unspecified “reciprocal counter-sanctions” on current and former representatives of a range of organisations, including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Other institutions named included the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC).

“The U.S. side concocted the so-called Hong Kong business advisory, baselessly smeared Hong Kong’s commercial environment, and illegally sanctioned Chinese officials in Hong Kong,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“These actions seriously violated international law and the basic principles of international relations, and seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs,” the ministry said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing that the United States was “undeterred” by China’s move, which came after Washington last week issued its business advisory for Hong Kong and imposed sanctions on more Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in the former British colony.

“These actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies and civil society organizations as a way to send political signals,” Psaki said, adding that they illustrated the very risks about which the U.S. government had warned.

Ross could not be immediately reached for comment.