BEIJING — China on Monday announced unspecified sanctions against 11 U.S. politicians and heads of organizations promoting democratic causes, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who have already been singled out by Beijing.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Monday said the 11 had “performed badly” on issues concerning Hong Kong, where China has cracked down on opposition voices following its imposition of a national security law in the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city last month.
The number of Americans named by the ministry exactly equals the number of Hong Kong and Chinese officials placed on a sanctions list by the U.S. last week over the crackdown.
China showed its determination to defy such pressure on Monday by arresting leading independent media tycoon Jimmy Lai, raiding the publisher’s headquarters and carting away boxes of what they said was evidence.
The arrest of Lai, two of his sons and several company officers and the search of his Next Digital group headquarters marked the first time the law was used against news media, stoking fears that authorities are suppressing press freedom. Next Digital operates Apple Daily, a feisty pro-democracy tabloid that often condemns China’s Communist Party-led government.
“Raiding a news institution is a severe attack on press freedom and should not be tolerated in a civilized society,” Next Digital said in a statement. “Hong Kong’s press freedom is now hanging by a thread, but our staff will remain fully committed to our duty to defend the freedom of the press.”
The 11 Americans sanctioned by China also included Senators Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton and Pat Toomey and Representative Chris Smith.
“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,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian 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.”
Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said he was sanctioned for defending the victims of Communist Party rule, including Hong Kong students fighting for democracy.
“Chinese Communism is the most dangerous threat to freedom in the world, and I will never back down from fighting it,” he said in a statement.
The others sanctioned were 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.
Beijing already 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 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.
Associated Press writer Zen Soo in London contributed to this report.