Money

US targets Hong Kong leader but not banks in sanctions report

The United States on Wednesday renewed pressure against Hong Kong’s leader, accusing her of undermining autonomy from China, but stopped short of imposing sanctions on banks under a tough new law.

The State Department issued its first report mandated to Congress under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, a law passed by Congress aimed at making the tightening restrictions on the financial hub costly for Beijing.

The report “underscores our ongoing objection to Beijing’s actions that are intentionally designed to erode the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and impose the CCP’s oppressive policies,” the State Department said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

In line with the report, the Treasury Department added 10 people to its blacklist of “Specially Designated Nationals” subject to sanctions including Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive.

The move has limited practical effect as the United States had already imposed sanctions under separate authorities against Lam and the nine others in August, restricting any US-based financial transactions with them.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act goes further than previous US efforts by laying the groundwork for sanctions in the world’s largest economy against banks seen as abetting the clampdown in the city.

The authors of the law, which enjoyed overwhelming support in Congress, called the report a missed opportunity.

“This report indicates that, unfortunately, the administration is moving too slowly in expanding the number of individuals and entities held accountable under the act,” said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who spearheaded the law with Republican Pat Toomey.

“I urge them to take additional measures and hope to see them reflected in the next report we receive,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

The release of the report had been closely watched in Hong Kong for signs that the United States could tighten the screws on major banks.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has openly criticized banking giant HSBC, accusing it of doing business with sanctioned individuals while “shutting accounts for those seeking freedom.”

The US pressure comes after China imposed a sweeping new security law on the city, which was promised a separate system when Britain handed the territory back to Beijing in 1997.

Lam has denounced the US sanctions but acknowledged in August that they have caused her “a little bit of inconvenience” by hindering her use of credit cards.

Other officials targeted by the sanctions include Luo Huining, the director of the Liaison Office that represents Beijing in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s police commissioner, Chris Tang. (AFP)

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