BEIJING – China lashed out at the U.S. on Tuesday over new American sanctions against Chinese officials for their actions in Hong Kong, along with the sale of more U.S. military equipment to Taiwan, moves touching on two of the most sensitive issues in the increasingly contentious relationship between the nations.
The foreign ministry summoned Washington's top diplomat in China to express “strong indignation and strong condemnation."
The U.S. actions “seriously violated the basic norms of international relations, seriously interfered in China's domestic politics, seriously damaged China-U.S. relations, are arrogant, unreasonable and vile," Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang was quoted as telling Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Forden.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying also condemned the new sanctions leveled against 14 officials in the standing committee of China’s legislature, which passed a sweeping Hong Kong National Security Law earlier this year.
China will “take resolute and forceful countermeasures and resolutely defend its sovereignty, security and development interests," Hua said at a daily briefing.
The State Department on Monday said the 14 officials will be banned from traveling to the U.S. or accessing the U.S. financial system over actions in Hong Kong seen as squelching free speech and opposition politics.
It also announced the approval of a $280 million sale of advanced military communications equipment to Taiwan.
China passed the National Security Law as part of a campaign to impose tighter control and drive foreign political influence from Hong Kong, a former British colony that was handed back to China in 1997 with a promise it could retain its relatively liberal political, legal and economic systems for 50 years.
Harsh suppression of months of increasingly violent anti-government protests last year led to unyielding enforcement of the law, including the arrest of leading government opponents and the expulsion of four opposition members of the Legislative Council. That prompted the rest of the opposition bloc to resign en masse, while Washington leveled sanctions at leading figures in both the Hong Kong government and related Chinese government departments.
In his comments to Forden, Zheng said U.S. expressions of concern for democracy, human rights and autonomy in Hong Kong were merely cover for its real goals of spreading chaos in the territory and stifling China's stability and development.
That, he said, proved Washington was the “black hand" behind disorder in Hong Kong, repeating a frequent Chinese accusation rejected by the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing described the meeting as a chance to express U.S. concern over the National Security Law.
Forden “noted that Beijing has used the law repeatedly to suppress freedom of expression and assembly in Hong Kong and to arrest Hong Kong residents who have raised peacefully their concerns over Beijing’s oppressive policies," the embassy said in a statement on its website.
The dispute over Hong Kong comes as China is upping military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy that Beijing claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.
Hua demanded the U.S. cancel its latest arms sale to Taiwan and said China would make a “proper and necessary response.”
President Donald Trump's administration has incensed Beijing with 11 separate arms sales and closer military and political ties with the island.
China has responded with stepped-up military flights and wargames near Taiwan and pledged to punish U.S. companies involved in arms deals with the island. It has sought to poach Taiwan's dwindling number of diplomatic allies while blocking the island from participating in international medical, economic and other organizations, demanding that President Tsai Ing-wen first recognize that the island is Chinese territory.
Taiwan’s government welcomed the sale of U.S. military equipment, saying it showed Washington is honoring its commitment to bolster the island’s defenses.
“Taiwan has been at the receiving end of such military threats on a daily basis,” Tsai told reporters. “Only through engagement and by working together can we tackle the threats and challenges that beset our region and the world.”
The U.S. earlier imposed sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in abuses against Muslim minority groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. It has also gone after Chinese companies as part of a feud over trade and alleged pilfering of intellectual property, last week adding China’s biggest maker of processor chips and a state-owned oil giant to a blacklist that limits access to American technology and investment.
Earlier this year, the U.S. also forced the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston — prompting China to shutter the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu — and last week, it cut the duration of U.S. visas for members of China's ruling Communist Party and their family members from 10 years to one month.
The Trump administration appears to be using Taiwan, Hong Kong and other issues to heighten the level of confrontation in China-U.S. relations, said Su Hao, professor of international relations at China Foreign Affairs University.
“Trump would like to see a formation of a solidified structure of China-U.S. relations that will make it difficult for (President-elect Joe Biden) to make changes,” Su said.
Trump may view the increased toughness toward China as a legacy of his time in office, said Diao Daming, associate professor in the School of International Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University.
“This is hurting bilateral relations, harming the interests of the countries and their citizens, and failing to meet the expectations of international society,” Diao said.