On July 16, the Biden administration issued a wide-ranging “Business Advisory” regarding Hong Kong and the Chinese Communist government’s crackdowns on the freedom and autonomy of the people of Hong Kong. The administration also imposed sanctions on seven Chinese individuals involved in the Hong Kong crackdown.
On Friday, China responded by sanctioning former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and six other individuals and companies. Why the sanctions were imposed is unclear. The Chinese are accusing the United States of issuing the Business Advisory “to groundlessly smear Hong Kong’s business environment.” Cracking down on freedom and closing companies that won’t play ball with Beijing was doing a pretty good job of depressing the business environment without the U.S. “smearing” it.
But China’s hypersensitivity to any criticism whatsoever meant they had to impose “reciprocal sanctions.”
According to Axios, a Chinese spokesperson said, “The US has concocted the so-called ‘Hong Kong Business Advisory’ to groundlessly smear Hong Kong’s business environment, and illegally imposed sanctions… These acts gravely violate international law and basic norms governing international relations, and severely interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
The sanctions were imposed under China’s new Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law that was passed last month and target Ross, who served in the Trump administration, along with the chair of the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission Carolyn Bartholomew, former staff director of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Jonathan Stivers, and Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch’s China.
Top officials from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute were also named.
“These actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies, and civil society organizations as a way to send political signals,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Those political signals include colorful metaphors.
“I would like to stress once again that Hong Kong is China’s Special Administrative Region and its affairs are an integral part of China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. “Any attempt by external forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs would be as futile as an ant trying to shake a big tree.”
Why an ant would want to shake a big tree is unknown. Perhaps the meaning got lost in translation.
Meanwhile, despite the warnings and sanctions, it’s pretty much business as usual with China as far as the Biden administration is concerned. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit Beijing next week.
The administration is framing the meeting as being “added on” to a Far-East swing by Sherman, but that almost surely isn’t the case. In fact, there had been a disagreement over whom Sherman would meet with.
The Financial Times had reported earlier that the uncertainty over Sherman’s trip was due to a disagreement over who her host would be: the U.S. wanted Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng, while China was offering Xie Feng, the fifth-ranking member of the Foreign Ministry. The two sides seemed to have finessed that deadlock with an arrangement for Sherman to primarily hold talks with Xie, but be afforded a meeting with Wang. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made that clear in his press briefing on July 22.
The trip looks set to be a rocky one, as might be expected given the current state of tensions. A previous meeting in March between Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi devolved into the diplomatic equivalent of a shouting match at the opening.
China is flexing its muscles and doesn’t much care who is offended or upset. They believe they have the upper hand with Biden and will continue to press their advantage until someone pushes back.
As long as Joe Biden is president, that’s not very likely.