China retaliates with sanctions on former commerce secretary Wilbur Ross

Barely 48 hours before the arrival in China of one of Biden’s most-trusted diplomats, Beijing has announced its decision to impose counter-sanctions on seven American citizens and entities, including former commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, in retaliation against Washington’s earlier sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong crackdowns.

The Biden administration announced sanctions on seven Chinese officials on 16 July and warned US businesses of the “growing risks” posed by Beijing and Hong Kong.

It is not the first time Washington and Beijing have imposed mutual sanctions, but the latest round marks the first time China has done so using its new anti-foreign sanction law, which was passed in June.

Others affected in Beijing’s “reciprocal counter-sanctions” are the current or former heads of a range of US organisations, including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council.

In response to Beijing’s counter sanctions, one of the affected US citizens, HRW’s China director Sophie Richardson tweeted, sarcastically: “thanks, for the extra motivation!” She added in another tweet, in reply to Jo Smith Finley, a British Xinjiang expert who was sanctioned by Beijing in March: “Seriously: so much work to do! And this ain’t about us.”

Since the enactment of the anti-foreign sanctions law last month, Beijing’s decision to impose counter-sanctions has been expected, but the timing of it is indicative of the deteriorating US-China relations. It also comes just less than 48 hours before US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman’s China visit on Sunday.

“Washington has reiterated that Sherman’s visit and talk with the Chinese side will be from ‘a position of strength’, but Beijing may want to remind [the Biden administration] that they are equals,” said Ma Ji, a senior CV Starr lecturer at Peking University’s school of transnational law.

Ma added: “Of course, none of those targeted are in Biden’s inner circle, which means that Beijing still wants to continue the conversation with Washington. But by issuing this list shortly before Sherman’s visit, Beijing clearly intends to reduce her expectations.”

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