Invoking the Hong Kong Autonomy Act of 2020 and other authorities, President Trump authorized sanctions on persons involved in the implementation of China's recent security law affecting Hong Kong and in related human rights abuses in the territory.

In Executive Order 13936, President Trump authorized the blocking of U.S. property interests and other measures against any person:

  • involved in implementing the "Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Administrative Region," including coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the new law's authority;

  • complicit or engaged in activities (i) undermining democratic processes or threatening the peace, security, stability, or autonomy of Hong Kong, (ii) prohibiting or penalizing the freedom of expression of the citizens of Hong Kong, or (iii) violating internationally recognized human rights (e.g., by arbitrary detention or torture);

  • acting as an official or leader of an entity that is engaged in any of the aforementioned activities or whose property is sanctionable under the order;

  • providing material assistance or support (e.g., financial, material or technological aid) to any person whose property is sanctionable under the order;

  • owned, controlled, or acting on behalf of, any person whose property is sanctionable under the order; or

  • acting as a member of a board of directors or a senior executive officer of any person whose property is sanctionable under the order.

In addition to the sanctions authorizations, the Executive Order also includes provisions affecting various preferences, exceptions, and other provisions related to Hong Kong's status under a number of trade and immigration laws and regulations.

Commentary

Under these broad authorities, the Executive Order would support the imposition of sanctions on a wide swath of Chinese officialdom involved in the administration of Hong Kong, as well as private companies who may support the Chinese Government's policies in the territory. To date, however, the authorities have not been utilized and no sanctions have been imposed. It remains to be seen if, and to what extent, these sanctions might be deployed, what effect they may have, and what response they may draw. With the Trump Administration also stepping up its response to the Chinese Government's human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it is clear that tensions between the world's two largest economies will persist. Businesses that operate in both countries can count on a steady supply of uncertainty.