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China sanctions Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio in retaliation for U.S. sanctions on Hong Kong’s top officials

China announced Monday it is levying sanctions against Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and nine other U.S. business figures and Republican politicians in ‘retaliation’ for actions taken against Hong Kong. 

The move to escalate tensions with the U.S. came just after the arrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of anti-Beijing media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile move by Communist authorities yet to clamp down on critics using a new ‘security’ law.

The list includes other Republican senators Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton and Pat Toomey, all of whom have spoken out against Beijing in recent weeks.

It also includes human rights groups who have criticized China’s security laws in Hong Kong.

Also sanctioned are National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman; National Democratic Institute President Derek Mitchell; International Republican Institute President Daniel Twining; Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth; and Michael Abramowitz, President of Freedom House.

The exact nature of the sanctions was not disclosed. None of the politicians have Chinese financial ties. 

Notably the 11-person list does not include any of Donald Trump’s administration or campaign officials or any of his family members or business associates. 

Sticking to Republican lawmakers rather than administration officials is less likely to escalate tensions with the White House directly.

The sanctions were announced by China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian who said the 11 individuals ‘performed badly’ on issues in Hong Kong. Both Cruz and Rubio have been outspoken critic

‘The relevant actions of the U.S. blatantly intervened in Hong Kong affairs, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, and seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations,’ Zhao said at a daily briefing on Monday.

‘China urges the U.S. to have a clear understanding of the situation, correct mistakes, and immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and interfering in China’s internal affairs,’ the spokesperson continued. 

Rubio issued a snarky response to the new sanctions in a Twitter post Monday.

‘Last month #China banned me. Today they sanctioned me,’ he wrote. ‘I don’t want to be paranoid but I am starting to think they don’t like me.’   

The 11 Americans named by the ministry are exactly the same number of Hong Kong and Chinese officials placed on a sanctions list by the U.S. last week over the crackdown.

Beijing placed a travel ban on Rubio, Cruz and Smith last month after Washington announced similar measures against Chinese officials linked to measures taken against Muslims in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.

The move comes as tensions continue to rise between Washington and Beijing.

Last month China’s consulate in Houston, Texas was closed as lawmakers denounced a hoard of spying operations out of the diplomatic campus.

After diplomats and all other consulate employees were given a few days to vacate the premises, images of them burning documents and other material in the courtyard of the building emerged.

The standing committee of China’s national legislature passed the National Security Law last month, bypassing the city’s Legislative Council and the public, where such legislation has faced stiff opposition for years.

The move came in response to months of sometimes violent anti-government protests last year that Beijing said were encouraged by foreign forces in a bid to overthrow Chinese rule over the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 under a ‘one country, two systems’ framework meant to last until 2047. 

China insists the law is necessary to restore order after last year’s mass protests, but critics say it tramples on the freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong after its handover from Britain in 1997.     

Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai was arrested in a raid on his newspaper office today under the city’s draconian new security law. 

Lai, 71, was led away in handcuffs and arrested along with six others on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces – one of the new offences under the law – and fraud. 

The editor of Lai’s Apple Daily paper said its journalists would not be intimidated by the raid after staff posted a live-stream of dozens of police on their premises. 

However, the Committee to Protect Journalists said the raid ‘bears out the worst fears that the law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom’. 

China insists the law is necessary to restore order after last year’s mass protests, but critics say it tramples on the freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong after its handover from Britain in 1997.   

Apple Daily staff were ordered to leave their seats and line up so police could check their identities as officers conducted searches across the newsroom.

At one point Lai was present, in handcuffs and surrounded by officers. Police said the search was conducted with a court warrant which was shown to staff.

Chris Yeung, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, described the police action as ‘shocking and terrifying’.

‘This is unprecedented, and would be unimaginable only one or two months ago,’ he said.

Apple editor Law later sent a note to staff telling reporters to ‘stand by their posts’ as he vowed to get the latest edition printed despite the raid.

Lai’s two main titles – the Apple Daily and the digital-only Next magazine – openly back democracy protests in a city where competitors either support Beijing or tread a far more cautious line. 

The two publications have been largely devoid of advertisements for years as brands steer clear of incurring Beijing’s wrath.

China routinely calls him a a ‘traitor’ and a ‘black hand’ behind last year’s protests.

Allegations of Lai colluding with foreigners went into overdrive in state media last year when he met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence.

Speaking in June, he described Beijing’s new security law as ‘a death knell for Hong Kong’ and said he feared authorities would come after his journalists. 

‘I’m prepared for prison,’ he said, two weeks before China’s rubber-stamp parliament approved the new law over the head of Hong Kong’s legislature. 

Beijing’s new law targets secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces, leading to fears it would be used to silence criticism. 

It also toppled the firewall between the mainland’s Communist Party-controlled courts and Hong Kong’s vaunted independent judiciary. 

The law’s introduction has coincided with ramped up police action against democracy supporters.

About two dozen – including Lai – have been charged for defying a police ban to attend a Tiananmen remembrance vigil in early June. 

Lai and many others are also being prosecuted for taking part in last year’s protests, the largest outbreak of unrest since the city’s return to Chinese rule. 

Last month a dozen high-profile pro-democracy figures were disqualified from standing in local elections for holding unacceptable political views.

Critics of the new law say it violates the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ which means Hong Kong is guaranteed freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.  

Washington last week responded by imposing sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials – including the city’s leader Carrie Lam. 

China says the security law is its own internal affair and has criticised other countries for their interference. 

Bejing also responded with criticism after Britain announced plans to open up a path to citizenship for nearly three million Hong Kongers.  

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