By Stephanie Yang
BEIJING—China suspended visits by U.S. military ships and aircraft to Hong Kong and placed sanctions on some U.S. nongovernment organizations, in an act of retaliation against President Trump’s signing of a bill intended to show support for Hong Kong’s antigovernment protesters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, who announced the new measures Monday, warned that Beijing could take further steps if necessary, calling the U.S.’s passage and signing of the bill a “serious violation of international law and basic norms.”
Last week, Mr. Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which requires an annual certification by the secretary of state of Hong Kong’s autonomy from the central government in Beijing.
The new Chinese restrictions are a mild but symbolic retaliation to the bill signing that don’t touch on the U.S.-China trade talks—arguably the main bone of contention between the world’s two largest economies.
Chinese threats of retaliation had raised concerns last week that the bill could derail a potential trade deal.
“As the Chinese would say, it’s lots of thunder and not much rain,” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London. “It’s more for show than for substance.”
Requests for port visits by the U.S. Navy to Hong Kong, for instance, are regularly denied by Beijing. But Ms. Hua said Monday that China would no longer be reviewing the requests at all.
The threat against U.S. NGOs, however, may be more serious, Mr. Tsang said, since it could lead to accusations of illegal operations in China and to workers being detained.
The organizations under sanction include the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, all of which Ms. Hua accused of encouraging violence in Hong Kong. She didn’t provide details on what measures would be taken against the groups.
China has for months accused foreign forces of inciting the nearly six months of unrest in the partly autonomous city.
Several NGOs condemned the unspecified sanctions and reiterated their support for the Hong Kong protesters. “Today’s action will only strengthen our resolve to help our partners worldwide counter the CCP’s well-documented efforts to corrode democracy,” said International Republican Institute President Daniel Twining, referring to the Communist Party of China.
Human Rights Watch said it has called on both Hong Kong authorities and protesters to refrain from violence.
“Rather that target an organization that seeks to defend the rights of the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese government should respect those rights,” said Kenneth Roth, the group’s executive director.
Ms. Hua said the duration of the restrictions depends on what the U.S. does next.
The Hong Kong bill, which passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support, reaffirms and amends the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992. Hong Kong’s favored trading status with the U.S. is contingent upon its autonomy from Beijing, and the act allows the U.S. to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on those who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong.