Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service, which was accused by activists of helping to track a boatload of fugitive activists this summer, has been included on a US trade blacklist as part of a new round of sanctions against Chinese entities.

The 77 entities announced Friday are barred from buying certain US goods and technologies and are subject to additional licence requirements. They were singled out because of actions “deemed contrary to the national security or foreign policy interest of the United States,” according to a Department of Commerce statement.

helicopter trick
Photo: Screenshot.

“These include entities in China that enable human rights abuses, entities that supported the militarization and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” the statement continued, without specifying why the flying service was included.

Included on the list are entities considered to have gained access to US-made goods to bolster Beijing’s military and intelligence: “[E]ntities acquired U.S.-origin items in support of the People’s Liberation Army’s programs, and entities and persons that engaged in the theft of U.S. trade secrets.”

Other blacklisted companies include China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer SMIC and the Beijing Institute of Technology. US companies who trade with those on the list will be “red-flagged” by authorities and cautioned by the Department of Commerce.

military aircrafts war planes
US and Japanese military aircrafts flying over East China Sea. File photo: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command via Flickr.

Of Friday’s 77 newly-added entities, 59 are Chinese.

The US move follows reports from pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and pro-democracy activists that the Government Flying Service tracked the 12 Hongkongers fleeing by speedboat to Taiwan in August. They were arrested in mainland waters and currently face charges of illegal entry in Shenzhen.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday called for the immediate release of the 12, who he said were fleeing “tyranny” in a tweet likening Hong Kong to the former East Berlin. Hong Kong’s government accused Pompeo of “totally disregarding the facts.”

The Government Flying Service is a government department and the successor to the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force of the British colonial era. It operates fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters on search and rescue and other emergency and law enforcement services.

‘Corrupt and bullying behaviour’

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the new measures were a reaction to Beijing’s belligerent actions. “China’s corrupt and bullying behavior both inside and outside its borders harms US national security interests, undermines the sovereignty of our allies and partners, and violates the human rights and dignity of ethnic and religious minority groups.”

Pompeo said on Friday the US would use “all countermeasures available” to prevent Beijing from using US technologies for “malign purposes.”

“The Chinese Communist Party’s malign activity at home and abroad harms US interests and undermines the sovereignty of our allies and partners,” he said in a statement.

On the same day, Beijing foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted that China “had no intention of picking a fight with the US.”

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.