Pompeo angers China with Hong Kong sanctions threat
By David Brunnstrom and Gabriel Crossley
WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – Washington may sanction those involved in the arrest of over 50 people in Hong Kong and will send the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to visit Taiwan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, drawing anger and the threat of retaliation from Beijing.
Pompeo said he was also “appalled” by the arrest of an American citizen as part of Wednesday’s crackdown and added: “The United States will not tolerate the arbitrary detention or harassment of U.S. citizens.”
Hong Kong police arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists on Wednesday in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a security law, which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.
Among those detained was American lawyer John Clancey, a source at his firm said.
Pompeo called the arrests an “outrage and a reminder of the Chinese Communist Party’s contempt for its own people and the rule of law.”
“The United States will consider sanctions and other restrictions on any and all individuals and entities involved in executing this assault on the Hong Kong people,” Pompeo said.
He said it would also “explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States, and take additional immediate actions against officials who have undermined Hong Kong’s democratic processes.”
Further riling Beijing, Pompeo announced in the same statement Kelly Craft, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, would visit Chinese-claimed and democratically run Taiwan, a highly symbolic trip as the island is not a U.N. member due to the objections of Beijing, which views Taiwan as a wayward province.
“Taiwan shows what a free China could achieve,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Pompeo’s comments represented a serious interference in the country’s internal affairs, which China strongly condemned.
“China will take all necessary steps to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and security interests,” Hua told reporters. “The United States must pay a heavy price for its mistakes.”
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Craft’s visit, which will be the first of a sitting U.S. ambassador at the U.N. to the island, saying it demonstrates the strong U.S. support for Taiwan’s international participation.
DAY OF TURMOIL
Pompeo’s statement came after a day of turmoil in Washington that saw supporters of President Donald Trump storm the Capitol in a bid to overturn his November election defeat.
Lawmakers on both sides denounced the gravest assault on the two houses of Congress in more than 200 years, calling it an embarrassment to American democracy that would play into the hands of rivals like China.
“I think they’re high-fiving in Beijing, and the Chinese look at this and are very happy about it,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a China hawk, told Tucker Carlson on the Fox News channel. “It kind of bolsters their claim that we’re falling apart and they’re the country of the future.”
On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued an advisory on its website, warning Chinese citizens to strengthen safety precautions in light of the “large-scale demonstration” in Washington and the curfew announced by the local government.
Trump has pursued hardline policies towards China on issues from trade to espionage and the coronavirus. His administration has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for crushing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and other alleged rights abuses.
Tensions have escalated within Washington on China policy in the final days of the Trump administration before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
The New York Stock Exchange said on Wednesday it would delist three Chinese telecoms companies, while the administration is also considering adding tech giants Alibaba and Tencent to a blacklist of firms allegedly owned or controlled by the Chinese military.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Gabriel Crossley; Additional reporting by Vincent Lee in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill, Raju Gopalakrishnan and William Mallard)