Possible American sanctions against Hong Kong officials for their perceived role in eroding the city’s autonomy by supporting the national security law would have minimal impact as only two members of the city leader’s cabinet have declared assets in the United States.
But one cabinet member admitted that the punitive moves were harsher and broader than expected, expressing concerns they would create a chilling effect among Hong Kong officials.
In retaliation for Beijing’s decision to impose a national security legislation on Hong Kong, US President Donald Trump signed a law and issued an executive order on Wednesday to sanction individuals and banks deemed to have aided the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. He also put forth an executive order ending the city’s preferential trading and other privileges.
Foreign individuals or entities determined by the US secretary of state to fall into this category will be blocked from investing, transferring, exporting, withdrawing or dealing with any property or interests in property in the US.
The people in question could include not just mainland Chinese officials but also Hong Kong government figures involved in developing and enforcing the national security law. They also include those who, directly or indirectly, are seen as having undermined democratic development in the city, censoring or penalising freedom of expression.
The definition of assets could cover property, bank accounts and shares but the executive order did not spell these out.
In response to the possible sanctions, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she had no fear, though she was named by the US authorities.
“I have no assets in the US, and I don’t particularly like going to the US. If they won’t grant me a visa, then I will just not go there,” Lam said in a TV interview broadcast on Thursday night.
A Post check on the declaration of interests by Lam and her 16 ministers found that they had no disclosed American assets.
Of another 16 non-official members of the Executive Council, who serve as advisers to Lam on her de facto cabinet, two have declared owning property in the US.
Exco convenor Bernard Chan has a self-use property in San Francisco in California while executive councillor Laura Cha Shih May-lung has a flat through an offshore company for rental purposes. The exact location of Cha’s property was not indicated.
However, Chan who is also a member of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, said he was not worried. “I don’t think they would target ranks like mine … as Beijing would retaliate equally, and I am sure they would suffer more,” Chan said. “The national security law is a done deal. There is no way that I would change my stance because of such threats.”
Chan said he had no plans to change or remove his assets there, which included a small banking account. As a member of the board of trustees of his alma mater, Pomona College in California, Chan said he used to travel to the country three to four times a year, but stopped the routine because of the Covid-19 pandemic, not out of fear over possible sanctions.
Another executive councillor, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, also noted that her cabinet peers were not involved in developing or implementing the national security law, but believed government officials had more reasons to worry.
“The wording is very broad, targeting those to be or have been involved, directly or indirectly, in the coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning of individuals [under the national security law],” Ip said, referring to the clause of the executive order.
“Surely there would be a chilling effect, as some officials may have sent their children to the US for study, or would like to travel to visit relatives,” she said, adding that electoral officers who disqualified candidates for the coming Legislative Council elections could face the risk of such sanctions.
“The Autonomy Act is harsher than expected, as it is without sunset clauses we saw in the Human Rights and Democracy Act,” Ip added.
China has vowed to impose retaliatory sanctions against US individuals and institutions in response to the latest American action, accusing it of serious interference in internal affairs.
Among Hong Kong’s pro-establishment lawmakers, Michael Tien Puk-sun, also a deputy to the NPC, has declared properties in the US, mainland China and in Hong Kong, while Paul Tse Wai-chun owns six properties in Las Vegas. The Post has filed queries to the pair.
Meanwhile, the pro-establishment camp issued a joint statement on Thursday, condemning the move from the US as an act of intimidation against Hong Kong officials tasked with enforcing the national security law. It also accused the superpower of creating a chilling effect on the city.
Hong Kong’s ministers tended to have property in Britain, rather than the US, the Post found. At least four Hong Kong ministers have declared properties in foreign countries, with health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee, civil service minister Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah owning properties in Britain. Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui Ying-wai own flats in Canada.
Among the pro-democracy camp, Charles Mok of the IT sector owns a property in California, while Claudia Mo has declared properties in Canada, Britain and Hong Kong. Jeremy Tam Man-ho of Civic Party sold his property in the US in April 2017.
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