Picture used for illustrative purposes only.
Just ahead of talks aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries the US sanctioned an additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on political freedoms in the semi-autonomous city.
According to The Associated Press 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.
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The US announcement was made during a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Loyd Austin to Japan and South Korea, both of which are wary of China's growing economic, military and political heft.
With screens showing Xi Jinping, delegates attend the opening session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. AP
The move reduces the proportion of those directly elected and ensures that only those determined by to be truly loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office - effectively shutting opposition figures out of the political process.
While in Tokyo on Tuesday, the two officials delivered a joint statement with their Japanese counterparts expressing concern about Beijing’s human rights violations in the western Xinjiang region against ethnic minorities and China’s determination to alter the status of a group of uninhabited islets administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. The two arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for talks.
On Thursday, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s are scheduled to hold their first face-to-face meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the foreign affairs chief of the Chinese Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, in Anchorage, Alaska.
The US has said that will be an initial opportunity to address intense disagreements over trade and human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
While President Joe Biden has sought to ease the harsh tone his predecessor took with China, his administration appears committed to taking a tough line on those issues.China has rejected all criticism of its policies toward Hong Kong, accusing foreign governments of interfering and saying political tightening was necessary following months of anti-government protests in 2019.
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.
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
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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"These provocative and dangerous maneuvers are a source of problems for maritime security," said Mao Ning, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, stressing that "the United States must immediately stop these dangerous provocations."