Pompeo threatens China sanctions over mass arrests of Hong Kong rights activists

US secretary of state slams ‘Communist oppression,’ calls for immediate release of dozens including a US lawyer; Beijing says Trump administration staging ‘final madness’

American human rights lawyer John Clancey, center, is arrested by police in Hong Kong, January 6, 2021. (Apple Daily/AP)
American human rights lawyer John Clancey, center, is arrested by police in Hong Kong, January 6, 2021. (Apple Daily/AP)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday threatened sanctions against individuals and organizations involved in the arrest of dozens of Hong Kong democracy figures, voicing anger that an American was among those rounded up.

Pompeo said the 53 people arrested Wednesday “should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

“The United States will not stand idly by while the people of Hong Kong suffer under Communist oppression,” Pompeo said in a late-night statement after a day of political violence in Washington.

“The United States will consider sanctions and other restrictions on any and all individuals and entities involved in executing this assault on the Hong Kong people.”

Pompeo, who will leave office in two weeks, said the United States would also “explore restrictions” against the financial hub’s trade representative office in Washington.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on ‘China challenge to US national security and academic freedom,’ in Atlanta, Georgia December 9, 2020. (Tami Chappell / AFP)

In an operation involving 1,000 officers, Hong Kong police arrested the activists for “subversion” in an escalation of Beijing’s imposition of a tough security law in the wake of huge and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019.

Pompeo, a vehement critic of Beijing, said he was “appalled” by the arrest of John Clancey, a lawyer working for a firm known to take up human rights cases.

“Let me be clear: The United States will not tolerate the arbitrary detention or harassment of US citizens,” he said.

Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said Pompeo’s statement was “in serious violation of the norms governing international relations,” and urged the secretary of state to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,”

“For a period of time, we have seen a minority of anti-China politicians in the Trump administration continue to stage their final madness, unscrupulously using their remaining term to deliberately undermine China-US relations and serve their personal political interests,” she said. “This kind of move goes against the trend of history and (…) will surely be punished by history.”

Pompeo also announced that Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, would soon travel to Taiwan, calling the island “a reliable partner and vibrant democracy that has flourished despite CCP (Chinese Communist Party) efforts to undermine its great success”.

“Taiwan shows what a free China could achieve,” he added.

The outgoing Trump administration has sent a bevy of high-level diplomatic delegations to Taiwan in the last year as it clashes with China on trade, security and human rights.

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