The Trump administration is poised to impose sanctions on Chinese officials and their allies in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as soon as Friday over their role in curtailing political freedoms in the former U.K. colony, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The measures would also target Communist Party officials, according to two of the people. All of the people spoke on condition of anonymity because the sanctions haven’t yet been announced.
The sanctions are being carried out under an executive order President Donald Trump signed last month seeking to punish China for its moves against dissent in Hong Kong. The White House, State Department and Treasury Department communications staffs declined to comment.
Trump has been threatening to take action ever since Chinese officials imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong over the last two months. China’s implementation of the law, and the reaction of major trading partners who have criticized it, could have a substantial impact on a Hong Kong economy already battered by months of historic anti-government protests and coronavirus restrictions.
Last week, authorities in Hong Kong drew new red lines on the limits of dissent in the financial center, barring a dozen activists from seeking office and arresting four others over social media posts. The back-to-back actions highlighted how much the national-security law has strengthened Beijing’s hand.
Lam, who works closely with Chinese authorities, has scoffed at the prospect of being targeted by U.S. 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 in a television interview broadcast last month.
The U.S. has already sanctioned a top member of China’s ruling Communist Party and three other officials over the alleged human rights abuses against ethnic minority Muslims in the far west region of Xinjiang.
Sanctioning the Chinese officials would mark yet another blow by Trump against Beijing, as he escalates his confrontation with the world’s second-largest economy heading into the November election. A tough stance toward China has emerged as a key argument to voters for Trump, who’s trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in national polls.
Late Thursday, Trump signed a pair of executive orders barring U.S. residents and companies from doing business with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps beginning 45 days from now, citing the national security risk of leaving Americans’ personal data exposed. While WeChat hasn’t been widely adopted in the U.S., the ban would have broad implications because it’s used by more than a billion people and is central to business and social communications with China.
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