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China imposes series of sanctions on United States figureheads

China said it would apply sanctions against 11 US citizens including officials from Monday in response to Washington‘s move on Friday to impose sanctions on 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials whom it accused of curtailing political freedoms in the city.

Among those targeted were Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Pat Toomey and Representative Chris Smith, as well as individuals at non-profits and rights groups.

“In response to those wrong US behaviours, China has decided to impose sanctions on individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Monday.

He did not specify what the sanctions entail.

China’s move came after Hong Kong police detained media tycoon Jimmy Lai for allegedly breaching the security law, in what marked the highest-profile arrest since the June legislation came into force.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated over issues ranging from trade to Hong Kong and China‘s handling of COVID-19.

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Beijing‘s move is the latest in a tit-for-tat round of sanctions between China and the United States over allegations of rights abuses and interference.

Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as well as the city‘s current and former police chiefs, under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump.

Those sanctions freeze any US assets owned by the officials and generally bar Americans from doing business with them.

Vice President Mike Pence described the arrest of Mr Lai as “deeply offensive”.

“The United States will continue to stand with Jimmy Lai and all the freedom loving people of Hong Kong. #FreeJimmyLai,” Mr Pence wrote on Twitter.

“The Chinese Communist party thinks that it can distract from its crackdown on Hong Kong, including the arrest of freedom fighter Jimmy Lai, by re-announcing sanctions against Senator Cruz that were already not credible … It won’t work,” Lauren Blair Aronson, a spokesperson for Senator Ted Cruz, wrote in a statement.

Mr Rubio, one of the most vocal China hawks in the Trump administration, made light of Beijing’s move.

“Last month #China banned me. Today they sanctioned me. I don’t want to be paranoid but I am starting to think they don’t like me,” Mr Rubio tweeted.

Mr Cotton also attacked Beijing, using heavier language. “If China thinks my opposition to its communist tyranny to date warrants these sanctions, I have two words for them: just wait,” he said.

The US politicians targeted by Beijing on Monday have been vocal critics of a new national security law that expands Beijing‘s authority in Hong Kong.

Last month, China announced sanctions against Mr Cruz, Mr Rubio, Mr Smith and other US officials after Washington penalised senior Chinese officials over the treatment of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

Beijing‘s latest measure also includes new sanctions against the heads of the US-based campaign groups Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. Both had been subjected to sanctions in December in relation to Hong Kong.

It also imposed sanctions on the heads of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute.

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