The United States imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 high ranking officials on Friday for their role in allegedly restricting political freedoms in the former British territory.
The sanctions were authorised by an executive order that President Donald Trump signed in July to levy penalties against China for its efforts to curtail anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
Announced by the Treasury Department, they are the latest in a string of actions the Trump administration has taken targeting China as tensions between the two nations rise over trade disputes, a controversial security law and the coronavirus outbreak.
“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The Treasury Department said a "draconian" Chinese security law imposed on Hong Kong in July has undermined the territory's autonomy and allowed mainland China’s security services to "operate with impunity in the region".
The organisation also said Carrie Lam "is the chief executive directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes".
The security law criminalises terrorism, secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces. It also creates a national security agency in Hong Kong that could put law enforcement in the hands of Beijing.
Hong Kong and Chinese government officials say the law is crucial for national security defences in the wake of anti-government protests over the past year.
The sanctions also target Hong Kong Police commissioner Chris Tang, John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s secretary of security, and Teresa Cheng, the justice secretary, among others.
The sanctions mean US assets belonging to Lam and the officials will be frozen and Americans will not be able to do business with them.
Hong Kong Commerce Secretary Edward Yau said the sanctions were “unreasonable and barbarous”, adding they would harm the interests of American companies in the city.
The move comes as Trump on Thursday ordered a sweeping but unspecified ban on dealings with the Chinese owners of consumer apps TikTok and WeChat.
China said on Friday it firmly opposed the ban on the technology companies.