(ATF) The new US administration called China's move to sanction 28 former Trump administration officials just as Joe Biden was sworn in “unproductive and cynical”.
Beijing’s Foreign ministry announced on January 20 it had imposed sanctions against the “lying and cheating" outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and other former officials.
China accused the 28 of having “seriously violated” China’s sovereignty a day after the outgoing administration declared that the repression and detention of more than 1 million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang amounted to “genocide”.
The Chinese Foreign ministry included Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, plus John Bolton, one of O'Brien's predecessors, and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger.
Others include Trump's hawkish trade adviser Peter Navarro, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs David Stilwell, former health secretary Alex Azar' former under secretary of state Keith Krach, former UN ambassador Kelly Craft, and just-pardoned ex-policy adviser Steve Bannon.
“Over the past few years, some anti-China politicians in the US ... have executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs,” the Chinese ministry said.
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The sanctions will have little impact on the US officials, although they and their immediate families are barred from entering Hong Kong and Macau as well as the Chinese mainland. Any companies and institutions - such as think-tanks and law firms - associated with them would be restricted from conducting business in China.
The move marks another deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing, and the first hiccup since the end of the Trump administration, during which ties degenerated to their lowest level since official diplomatic recognition in 1979.
"The most important reason to change direction is that the Trump administration’s approach failed," said Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser on Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank.
"Although the departing team deserves credit for loudly sounding the alarm bells on the dangers presented by a Xi Jinping-led China, on many issues but particularly on economic ones, it did not address that challenge with effective policies that changed the facts on the ground in America’s favour."
Biden has vowed to continue a tough stance against China, and last year described Xi as a “thug”. Avril Haines, confirmed by the Senate as director of national intelligence, has said she supported “an aggressive stance” towards China.
China was not the only target of Pompeo's last day of issuing sanctions. He announced visa restrictions on “Tanzanian officials responsible for or complicit in undermining" elections held in October 2020.
Some have argued that the decision was ironic, given the Trump administration sustained assault on democratic institutions in the US following the November 2020 presidential election. But analysts said Pompeo had no option.
"While [US] democratic credentials have certainly been damaged following the assault on the Capitol, failing to punish blatant abuses of human rights would do nothing more than leave autocrats comfortable in their ill-gotten victories," said Nolan Quinn, Africa research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, another Washington think-tank.