Trump takes a pause, leans against sanctions on Chinese officials for now

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US President Donald Trump with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing, 9 November 2017. | Colin G/Twitter
US President Donald Trump with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, 9 November 2017. | Colin G/Twitter


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Washington: President Donald Trump has indicated to aides that he doesn’t want to further escalate tensions with Beijing, and has ruled out additional sanctions on top officials for now, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump’s private decision to refrain from further restrictions — which he made before signing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act on Tuesday — contrasts with the combative public tone he has struck for weeks with China over issues from the coronavirus pandemic to trade to Hong Kong’s political freedoms.

The new law calls for sanctions against “primary offenders” undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy but doesn’t require the administration to act immediately. The president can still decide to go forward with the penalties even if he doesn’t do so now.

Before Trump decided against the move, his team had already created a list of officials including Vice Premier Han Zheng, a member of the Communist Party’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body in China headed by President Xi Jinping, said two of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity. Others included Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Chris Tang, the city’s police commissioner, they said.

Trump had threatened to take action ever since Chinese officials imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong about two weeks ago. China’s implementation of the law, and the reaction of major trading partners who have criticized it, could have a substantial impact on a Hong Kong economy already battered by months of historic anti-government protests and coronavirus restrictions.

The New York Times reported late Wednesday that the administration was also looking into a broader travel ban involving Communist Party members and their relatives. The Times, citing unidentified sources, said the proposal was still only a draft, but could allow for the revocation of visas held by members of the party who are now in the U.S.

The presidential order would be based on the law cited by the Trump administration to ban travel from several countries with Muslim majorities, the Times reported.

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