A protester throws a Molotov cocktail at an MTR station in Hung Hom after a day of protests in Hong Kong on Sunday. Leah Millis /Reuters
China suspended US warship visits and sanctioned American NGOs on Monday in retaliation for the passage of a bill backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
The financial hub has been rocked by nearly six months of increasingly violent unrest demanding greater autonomy, which Beijing has frequently blamed on foreign influence.
Last week US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which requires the president to annually review the city’s favourable trade status and threatens to revoke it if the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms are quashed.
The move came as the world’s two biggest economies have been striving to finalise a “phase one” deal in their protracted trade war.
“In response to the unreasonable behaviour of the US side, the Chinese government has decided to suspend reviewing the applications for US warships to go to Hong Kong for (rest and) recuperation as of today,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.
China had already denied requests for two US Navy ships to dock in Hong Kong in August, without specifying a reason why.
Hua said they would also apply sanctions to a number of US-based NGOs, although failed to give any specifics over the form sanctions would take.
Sanctions will apply to NGOs that had acted “badly” over the recent unrest in Hong Kong, she said, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.
There was “already a large amount of facts and evidence that make it clear that these non-governmental organisations support anti-China” forces and “incite separatist activities for Hong Kong independence,” Hua added.
She accused them of having “great responsibility for the chaotic situation in Hong Kong.”
Protesters in Hong Kong are pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, but the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has refused any major political concessions.
The increasingly violent rallies have hammered the retail and tourism sectors, with mainland Chinese visitors abandoning the city in droves.
The city’s finance chief warned Monday that Hong Kong is set to record its first budget deficit in 15 years.
The sanctions follow changes to Hong Kong's electoral law approved by China’s ceremonial legislature last week giving a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers.
The bill, to be introduced by Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Chris Van Hollen, would also impose secondary sanctions on banks that do business with entities found to violate the law guaranteeing Hong Kong's autonomy.
The US on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong officials, including the pro-China leader of the government, accusing them of cooperating with Beijing’s effort to undermine autonomy and crack down on freedom in the former British colony.
The US actions are part of what critics see as an effort by the Trump administration to put in place high-pressure tactics toward Beijing that could make it more difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to steady relations.
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