China suspends US Navy visits and sanctions American NGOs over bill supporting Hong Kong protests

China has introduced sanctions against US pro-democracy NGOs and restrictions on US military presence in Hong Kong, after US President Donald Trump signed a bill supporting Hong Kong protesters last week. 

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said that US military vessels and aircraft would not be able to visit Hong Kong.

The move followed Beijing’s threat that it would take “firm counter measures” if Mr Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which could lead to US sanctions on human rights violators in Hong Kong.

US military ships normally visit Hong Kong at least once a year, most recently last April, when the USS Blue Ridge command ship stopped off in the region. Two months later, in June, protests kicked off in the city over a proposed extradition bill between Hong Kong and China, before developing into a huge pro-democracy campaign.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said: “We urge the US to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs. China will take further steps if necessary to uphold Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and China’s sovereignty.”

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Beijing announced that US-based NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute would be sanctioned.

Ms Hua said the move was to make the organisations “pay the price” for supporting Hong Kong protesters.

She said: “There is a lot of evidence proving that these NGOs have supported anti-China forces to create chaos in Hong Kong, and encouraged them to engage in extreme violent criminal acts and ‘Hong Kong independence’ separatist activities.”

With China having already restricted the work of foreign NGOs operating within China since Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in 2013, the sanctions are likely to be largely symbolic.

Many NGOs, particularly those protecting human rights, have been forced to stop working in China due to pressure from the government.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: “We have repeatedly called on the Chinese central government, as well as the Hong Kong government, to fulfil the Hong Kong people’s rights to vote and to stand for elections. 

"Rather that target an organisation that seeks to defend the rights of the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese government should respect those rights.”

On Sunday tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets again in Hong Kong. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as businesses linked to mainland China were attacked by mobs.

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