China on Tuesday blasted new US sanctions against officials involved in the clampdown on Hong Kong, calling the move “crazy and vile”, a further worsening of relations between the world’s superpowers.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been using its waning days to ramp up pressure on China, and on Monday froze any US assets and barred travel to the United States for 14 vice chairs of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which spearheaded a tough new security law in the city.
China says the law is needed to restore stability after 2019’s huge protests but critics say it destroys freedoms once held in the financial hub.
On Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was holding Beijing accountable for its “unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes”.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying slammed the move’s “vile intention to grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
“The Chinese government and people express strong indignation over and strongly condemn the United States’ rude, unreasonable, crazy and vile behaviour,” Hua said at a regular press briefing Tuesday.
The foreign ministry later summoned the US Charge d’Affaires for an explanation.
Trump’s administration stopped short of punishing the committee’s chairman, Li Zhanshu, sometimes described as a right-hand man of President Xi Jinping, who has forged an on-again, off-again friendship with Trump.
The Trump administration has described decades of efforts to engage China to be a failure and US intelligence chief John Ratcliffe last week called Beijing “the greatest threat to democracy worldwide”.
In other steps last week, Pompeo terminated five Beijing-funded exchange programs, calling them propaganda tools, and said the State Department would limit the validity of visas for any members of the Chinese Communist Party and their family members — a decision that could affect hundreds of millions of people.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament pushed through the draconian new security law in June.
Critics say it destroys the freedoms once enjoyed in Hong Kong, enshrined in an agreement made before the 1997 handover from British colonial rule back to China.
China says the law and prosecution of critics is needed to restore stability after last year’s huge and often violent protests.
The United States has already slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, and has declared that it will no longer treat the financial hub as separate from China.
On Monday, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously Monday to make it easier for residents of Hong Kong to live in the United States, following similar steps by Britain and Canada.
Hong Kong residents would enjoy so-called Temporary Protected Status for five years, joining citizens of conflict-ridden states such as Syria who cannot be deported and will have the right to work in the United States.
The move still needs approval by the Senate but it has support across party lines, unlike a previous Democrat bid to extend the status to Venezuelans.
The move by US lawmakers comes as on Monday Hong Kong police cited the law to arrest three people who last month chanted slogans at a university campus.