WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States should target Hong Kong’s financial sector with tougher sanctions to deprive China from its ‘ATM’ and to force Beijing to the negotiating table over its crackdown on the Asian financial hub, a former Hong Kong lawmaker told Reuters.
Sixtus “Baggio” Leung said he hopes to meet with advisers of President-elect Joe Biden to urge him to ramp up pressure on China, which tightened its grip over the former British colony with the imposition of new national security laws in June.
“There’s a stronger way to respond to China’s repression: Hong Kong financial system, which is one of the ATMs of China right now – if we can do something on this, it will be much more powerful,” he said in Washington, after fleeing to seek asylum in the United States last month.
After being disqualified in 2016 from his post as an elected lawmaker, Leung, 34, was sentenced to four weeks in jail and served his time in September.
Leung suggested action should be taken to block Chinese banks from using SWIFT, a network used by banks globally to make financial transactions, and also target Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the U.S. currency “to try to force China to back to the negotiation table”.
In October, the U.S. State Department warned international financial institutions doing business with individuals deemed responsible for China’s crackdown in Hong Kong they could soon face tough sanctions.
China, which promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under its handover agreement with Britain in 1997, denies curbing rights and freedoms in the city, and has condemned U.S. sanctions as interference in China’s internal affairs.
Hong Kong democracy activists say conditions have deteriorated since China imposed security laws in June. Leung’s comments risk falling foul of the new laws, which make anything Beijing regards as subversion, secession, terrorism or colluding with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison
Earlier this week, Hong Kong police arrested eight more activists over an anti-government protest in July.
“Every day when we wake up, when we look at the mobile (phone) screen, the issue of first thing that pop up is: who of our friends are being arrested; who among our friends is being sentenced to jail,” said Leung.
China and Hong Kong are expected to be among Biden’s thorniest challenges, with relations between Washington and Beijing at the lowest point in decades.
On Tuesday, his incoming national security advisor Jake Sullivan said he was ‘deeply concerned’ about Hong Kong crackdown. Biden’s transition team declined to comment, but referred Reuters to Sullivan’s tweet.
Washington has already unleashed a series of sanctions on senior officials from Hong Kong and China deemed responsible for Beijing’s crackdown in the territory. But Leung says more is needed to stop China from obliterating its democracy.
“I cannot see the situation would change if we just sit here and do nothing,” he said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lincoln Feast.)