Beijing has sanctioned several former Trump administration officials, including the outgoing US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, accusing them of having “seriously violated” China’s sovereignty.
China took the move a day after Donald Trump’s administration declared that the repression and detention of more than 1m Muslim Uighurs in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang amounted to genocide.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it was sanctioning 28 individuals, including Matt Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser who was one of the main drivers of the hawkish stance towards China.
They also targeted Robert O’Brien, who was national security adviser until Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president on Wednesday, and John Bolton, who was his predecessor in the top security position.
“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 foreign ministry said.
The sanctioned former officials and their families would be barred from entering mainland China and also the territories of Hong Kong and Macau, it said, and companies and institutions associated with the 28 targets would also be restricted from conducting business with China.
The move marks the latest deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing which have reached levels not seen since diplomatic ties were established more than three decades ago.
Mr Biden has vowed to take a tough stance on China, and last year described Chinese president Xi Jinping as a “thug”. He recently appointed Kurt Campbell, a veteran Asia expert, to serve as a new Asia tsar, in a move that underscored the rising challenges from China.
On Tuesday Antony Blinken, Mr Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, told Congress that he disagreed with how Mr Trump had implemented his China policy, but thought the former president “was right in taking a tougher approach to China”.
Avril Haines, the nominee for director of national intelligence, also said she supported “an aggressive stance” toward China. “Our approach to China has to evolve and essentially meet the reality of the particularly assertive and aggressive China that we see today,” she said.
But few experts believe that Mr Biden will be as aggressive as the Trump administration has been, particularly over the past year.
The Chinese foreign ministry statement on Wednesday only listed the names of 10 of the Americans who have been sanctioned. The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for clarification.
Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it appeared to be the first time China had sanctioned US officials. She said it was unclear how strongly Beijing would enforce the measures since it had only recently begun using sanctions.
Ms Glaser added, however, that the move could make it more difficult for some former officials to get certain jobs in the future. “Company boards and advisory groups may be reluctant to hire individuals on the list to avoid negative impact on their business,” she said.
Ryan Hass, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Chinese move was also likely a response to recent efforts by Mr Trump to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials over the efforts by Beijing to clamp down on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
He said the warning to companies was designed to “deprive outgoing officials of earning opportunities and to try to deter future officials from advocating policies that could undermine their post-government employment options”.
China also sanctioned Peter Navarro, a China hawk who served as a White House trade official, and Steve Bannon, another outspoken critic of China who served as Mr Trump’s presidential campaign manager and White House strategist until he was fired after seven months.
As Mr Trump left office on Wednesday he pardoned Mr Bannon, who had been charged with bilking hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who donated to a fund to build a border wall. Mr Bannon last year pleaded not guilty and was released on bail pending trial.
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