As ties sour between the governments of Hong Kong and the United States, countermeasures against the American sanctions slapped on Hong Kong and mainland officials may be in the pipeline, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam declaring they will not be intimidated.
The Hong Kong government slammed the move by Washington as “shameless and despicable” in a harshly worded statement issued yesterday, adding that “we will fully support the central government to adopt countermeasures”.
Refusing to be intimidated, Mrs Lam said the government was “discharging an honourable duty to safeguard national security, protecting the life and interests of not only the 7.5 million Hong Kong people but also the 1.4 billion mainlanders”.
Later in a Facebook post, Mrs Lam, who previously scoffed at the possibility of being sanctioned by the US, said she would cancel her US visa.
The US Treasury Department had said Mrs Lam was sanctioned as she “is directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes”.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau, who is not among those sanctioned, told a radio programme the city is considering countermeasures, without specifying what they are.
“Looking at the wider interest between Hong Kong and the US, such imposition of unreasonable measures would send a very wrong signal to US investment in Hong Kong.
“Ultimately, I think the toll will be back on the US, and of course, it will definitely hurt Hong Kong-US relations,” said Mr Yau.
Late Friday night, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet that the US will not stand by while the people of Hong Kong suffer “brutal oppression at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party or its enablers”.
His comments came after the US imposed sanctions – allowing the freezing of assets in the US and banning those on the blacklist from doing any business in the US – on Mrs Lam and 10 other top Hong Kong and mainland officials, who include Hong Kong police commissioner Chris Tang.
Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the US order serves as a signal to China “but does not impact the given persons too much politically and financially”.
This is because those on the blacklist are “senior in the party-state apparatus” and their personal interests are tied to their positions, although the sanctions will create many difficulties for the 11 officials in many countries and in the banking sector, he said.
What would be more hurtful is if the US moves on to target mid-level officials who are involved in Hong Kong affairs, Prof Wu added.
Hong Kong legal scholars Albert Chen and Simon Young are of the view that banks or financial institutions cannot be guilty under the city’s national security law in complying with a foreign law that requires them to participate in the implementation of foreign sanctions.
This, as long as the lenders or financial institutions are not the ones to “impose a sanction”, they said in a university blog post published on July 31.
Mr Nick Turner, a lawyer specialising in sanctions and anti-money laundering at Steptoe & Johnson in Hong Kong, said non-US financial institutions that are not directly subject to US regulations will be able to make a choice about how they will proceed. But they are still subject to US regulations when they transact with US individuals or the US financial system.