The Hong Kong Democracy Council was, in addition to six people including former U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, added to China’s new “reciprocal counter sanctions” list today. The D.C.-based advocacy group responded to the news in a statement whose title aptly notes that it was “Recognized by PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights Advocacy.”
“Being targeted and sanctioned by an authoritarian regime like the CCP is a badge of honor. It is the best validation of what and who we are fighting for,” said Samuel Chu, the group’s director.
“Beijing can sanction us, but it only affirms our effectiveness, strengthens our resolve, and lays bare their shameful repression for the world to see. To call out the fearless advocates and officials who spotlight the CCP’s atrocities is elevating our work. “
Chu is no stranger to Beijing’s intimidation tactics. Last summer, reports indicated that the Chinese authorities sought his arrest under Hong Kong’s National-Security Law. Although Chu is a U.S. citizen who lives in America, the Chinese Communist Party claims global jurisdiction for speech crimes under the law, which was enacted a bit over a year ago.
In expressing his glee at being added to the list, Chu almost certainly speaks for its other additions, who also include Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch; and Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Reuters reports that the sanctions were put in place under a new law designed to retaliate for foreign sanctions. The Chinese foreign ministry says it is responding to a recent Biden administration decision to warn Americans against doing business in Hong Kong. It’s not entirely clear what these sanctions entail, besides banning their targets from entering China.
This move is not the first time that Beijing has used sanctions to send a message. During Joe Biden’s inauguration speech, China announced sanctions targeting U.S. citizens, including former senior Trump administration officials who had played a central role in crafting a confrontational policy toward the party-state.
The move seemed intended to spook incoming Biden officials, signaling that continuing the Trump-era policy would be met with consequences for those who seek jobs at companies with links to China in the future.
It seems not to have worked, as the Biden administration has kept in place much of the Trump administration’s approach to China, including its efforts to cultivate closer diplomatic ties with Taiwan and respond to the Uyghur genocide.
The Chinese government also enacted sanctions against a number of European and U.K. politicians and researchers in March, after the European Union, the U.K., and Canada joined a U.S.-led push to impose penalties on officials involved in Beijing’s Xinjiang repression. That decision backfired, however, galvanizing the EU parliament to oppose a controversial trade deal with China.
After the sanctions announcement today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Chinese moves “only demonstrate [China’s] further isolation from the world” and that the U.S. is “undeterred.”
Which is mostly true. For now, Beijing’s revenge is a sideshow, unlikely to seriously hamper critical work on confronting the Chinese Communist Party, and so Chu and others can wear their recognition as a badge of honor. But this sort of thing might not always be such a trifling matter.