China Hits Back at U.S. Over Hong Kong Bill in a Mostly Symbolic Move

Thousands of protesters take part in a demonstration in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood of Hong Kong, Dec. 1, 2019. After a relative lull in the protests, thousands of pro-democracy activists turned out Sunday for three demonstrations a week after scoring a major victory in elections that were viewed as a broad endorsement of the movement’s goals. (Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times)


Amy Qin

c.2019 The New York Times Company


BEIJING — China said Monday that it would suspend visits to Hong Kong by U.S. warships and impose sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental groups, in a mostly symbolic retaliation for tough human rights legislation that President Donald Trump signed last week.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the measures were a response to the “unreasonable behavior” on the part of the United States. She denounced the new human rights legislation as illegal interference into its domestic affairs.

In her remarks, Hua also accused several organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, of instigating violence during the anti-government protests that have convulsed Hong Kong since June. It is unclear what form any Chinese sanctions on these groups would take.

Without citing evidence, Hua said these groups supported “anti-China forces in creating chaos in Hong Kong, and encouraged them to engage in extreme violent criminal acts.”

“They have a large responsibility for the chaos in Hong Kong, and deserve to be sanctioned and pay the price.”

China has responded to the new legislation with strong rhetoric, but the measures announced Monday suggested that Beijing was unwilling to let the dispute spill over into its trade negotiations with the United States.

It was unclear what impact, if any, the sanctions would have on the groups China has singled out for punishment. Most of the organizations Hua named do not have offices in mainland China. Foreign nongovernmental groups have already been subject to growing Chinese government pressure since 2016, when the country passed a wide-reaching law strictly regulating their operations in the country.

China has also previously denied permission to U.S. naval vessels to dock in Hong Kong at times of heightened tensions between the two countries, most recently in August.

“It’s nothing new,” said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I think the major purpose of this is rhetorical: to try to convince the world that the U.S., whether it’s the CIA or the NGOs, is trying to foment a color revolution in Hong Kong.”

But with China’s economy slowing and new tariffs looming, the rhetoric could only go so far.

“China really needs this trade deal,” Lam said.