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WASHINGTON: The United States said on Friday it will impose new visa restrictions on a number of Hong Kong officials over the crackdown on rights and freedoms in the Chinese-ruled territory.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that in the past year, China continued to take actions against Hong Kong’s promised high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and rights and freedoms, including with the recent enactment of a new national security law known as Article 23.

“In response, the Department of State is announcing that it is taking steps to impose new visa restrictions on multiple Hong Kong officials responsible for the intensifying crackdown on rights and freedoms,” Blinken said in a statement.

The statement did not identify the officials who would be targeted.

In November, Hong Kong condemned a US bill calling for sanctions against 49 Hong Kong officials, judges and prosecutors involved in national security cases, saying US legislators were grandstanding and trying to intimidate the city.

Officials named in that Hong Kong Sanctions Act included Secretary for Justice Paul Lam, Police chief Raymond Siu and judges Andrew Cheung, Andrew Chan, Johnny Chan, Alex Lee, Esther Toh and Amanda Woodcock.

The United States has imposed visa restrictions and other sanctions in the past on Hong Kong officials blamed for undermining freedoms and announced an end to the special economic treatment the territory long enjoyed under US law.

It has also warned that foreign financial institutions that conduct business with them would be subject to sanctions.

The US Hong Kong Policy Act requires the State Department to report each year to Congress on conditions in Hong Kong.

“This year, I have again certified that Hong Kong does not warrant treatment under US laws in the same manner as the laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1, 1997,” Blinken said, referring to when Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain.

“This year’s report catalogs the intensifying repression and ongoing crackdown by PRC and Hong Kong authorities on civil society, media, and dissenting voices, including through the issuance of bounties and arrest warrants for more than a dozen pro-democracy activists living outside Hong Kong,” Blinken said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

The Commissioner’s Office of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said the report and statements issued by Blinken “confused right and wrong” and “stigmatized” Hong Kong’s national security law and the city’s electoral system.

The threat to sanction Hong Kong officials “grossly interferes” in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, a spokesperson said in a statement issued on Saturday.

“Instead of acting as the world’s policeman and issuing an annual ‘Hong Kong Policy Act report’, the United States should take time to examine itself.”

China’s embassy in Washington said it strongly deplored and firmly opposed US threats to “impose unwarranted unilateral sanctions” on Hong Kong.

“The US side disregards facts, makes irresponsible remarks about Hong Kong affairs, and levels groundless accusations” at the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, the embassy posted on its website.

“The US should immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and other internal affairs of China,” it said.

US-funded Radio Free Asia said on Friday it had closed its Hong Kong bureau, citing concerns over staff safety after the enactment of the new national security law.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule with the guarantee that its high degree of autonomy and freedoms would be protected under a “one country, two systems” formula.

In recent years, many pro-democracy politicians and activists have been jailed or gone into exile, and liberal media outlets and civil society groups have been shut down.

This month, in a joint statement, 145 community and advocacy groups condemned the security law and called for sanctions on officials involved in its passage, and a review of the status of Hong Kong’s Economic & Trade Offices worldwide.


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