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China Hits Back With Counter-Sanctions Against US

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Beijing announced sanctions against six US citizens and one nonprofit organization on July 23, marking the first sanctions imposed under China’s new Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law, which the government passed last month.

Most prominent among those sanctioned is former US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Ross served during the Trump administration, which took an increasingly hardline stance toward China — one that the Biden administration has largely continued. Other individuals sanctioned include officials at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute (IRI), and Human Rights Watch. The nonprofit Beijing designated was the Hong Kong Democratic Council. All have been critical of Beijing’s crackdown on opposition within the semi-autonomous state.

Those designated may be banned from entering China and forced to leave if already within the country’s borders. The government may also confiscate or freeze their assets, and the sanctioned individuals are prohibited from doing business with Chinese nationals. However, it’s unclear what other actions, if any, China may take.

The new sanctions were imposed just one week after the US sanctioned seven officials from China’s liaison office in Hong Kong, freezing their assets and banning US businesses from doing business with them. The Biden administration simultaneously cautioned companies against doing business in Hong Kong, calling out Beijing’s enforcement of the controversial national security law and the uncertainties around how the Chinese government plans to enforce its sanctions regime.

The announcement also occurred just days before US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s planned visit to China to discuss the escalating tensions. Talks were said to have been tense, with Chinese news reports stating that China laid out two lists: one of “errors” the US must remedy, including lifting sanctions against Chinese nationals, and the other of issues deemed important to the Chinese government. Moreover, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ball is squarely in the Biden administration’s court, with the countries “in a stalemate…because some Americans portray China as an ‘imagined enemy.'”

While the US hasn’t directly commented on China’s portrayal of the talks, there’s been no indication that the Biden administration intends to change its position. Instead, speaking to NPR on July 29, Sherman indicated that the US would continue to pressure Beijing to adjust its approach in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Other areas of contention include China’s treatment of the Uyghurs living in Xinjiang and its aggressive stance toward “reunification” with Taiwan — all of which China considers internal affairs. Sherman also signaled that the US intends to work with its Western allies to exert additional pressure.  From a practical standpoint, this means it’s likely more sanctions are forthcoming — from the US and its Western allies as well as from China.

Originally published July 29, 2021, updated May 6, 2022

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