Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened U.S. sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for the mass arrests of over 50 opposition figures in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
“The United States will not stand idly by while the people of Hong Kong suffer under communist oppression,” said Pompeo in a Jan. 6 statement.
He called on those arrested to be released immediately and unconditionally since they “are guilty of nothing but exercising the democratic rights promised to them by treaty, and due to them through virtue of their humanity. “
In addition to sanctions, Pompeo said that the U.S. government will “explore restrictions” against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices in the United States, which are official representatives of the Hong Kong government with offices in Washington, New York, and San Francisco.
A total of 53 pro-democracy activists were arrested on Wednesday, the largest crackdown on the city’s opposition camp since Beijing’s national security law went into effect on June 30 last year. The law penalizes vaguely-defined crimes such as subversion and secession with a maximum of life imprisonment.
They were arrested for suspicion of committing crimes under the national security law, over their roles in a primary election held by the pan-democracy camp in July, two months ahead of the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections.
Among those arrested were many former lawmakers, local activists, and politicians, as well as human rights lawyer John Clancey, a U.S. citizen, after the police raided his law firm Ho, Tse, Wai & Partners. According to Hong Kong media, Clancey has since been released on bail.
“I am also appalled by the news of the arrest of an American citizen as part of this campaign of political repression. Let me be clear: The United States will not tolerate the arbitrary detention or harassment of U.S. citizens,” Pompeo stated.
Pompeo added that the United States will also take “additional immediate actions against officials who have undermined Hong Kong’s democratic processes.”
In July, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the United States’ preferential trade treatment with Hong Kong. In August, the Trump administration blacklisted 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials, among them Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, for their roles in undermining the city’s autonomy and freedoms.
The mass arrests drew international outrage. Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan have all expressed concerns. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a group of international lawmakers, also condemned the arrests.
Aside from Pompeo, many U.S. officials have also publicly denounced the Chinese Communist Party over the arrests, including Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft.
In the same statement, Pompeo also announced that Craft will visit Taiwan on an unspecified date.
“Taiwan shows what a free China could achieve,” Pompeo concluded.
Washington currently has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but has maintained a robust relationship with Taipei based on the Taiwan Relations Act, which authorizes the United States to provide the island with military equipment for its self-defense.
Pompeo’s statement immediately drew outcry from Beijing. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, in a daily briefing on Jan. 7, accused the United States of “interfering” in China’s “internal affairs” with Pompeo’s remarks about Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Hua added that China will take “necessary measures” to safeguard its interests and the United States will “pay a heavy price” for its actions.
Beijing sees Taiwan as a part of its territory and has threatened to use military force to bring the island under its fold. It also opposes governments or international organizations from forming ties with the island that might suggest that Taiwan is a de-facto independent country with its own democratically-elected government, military, currency, and constitution.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Craft will be the first incumbent U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to visit Taiwan and the trip signifies further improvement of the Taiwan-U.S. relationship.
Bilateral ties between Washington and Taipei have warmed considerably under the Trump administration. Last year, two senior U.S. officials visited Taiwan, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Under Secretary of State Keith Krach.