China to Sanction Senior U.S. Officials Over Recent Hong Kong Punishment

China has announced sanctions against senior U.S. officials and will cancel visa-free entry to Hong Kong and Macau for the country's diplomatic passport holders, its foreign ministry said on Thursday.

At a regular press briefing, spokesperson Hua Chunying said the countermeasures were a direct response to Washington's interference in its "internal affairs" in Hong Kong.

It comes as China vowed "stern" retaliation after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced U.S. sanctions against 14 members of China's National People's Congress on Monday.

The State Department said it would freeze their U.S.-based assets and impose travel bans in response to Beijing's efforts to quash the democratic movement in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

"China has decided to sanction senior administrative officials, members of Congress, NGO representatives and their immediate families for their bad behavior on the Hong Kong issue," Hua said.

Beijing would also revoke visa waivers to Hong Kong and Macau for American diplomats with valid passports, she added.

The foreign ministry did not give further details and did not name those most likely to appear on its sanctions list, but Chinese state media has speculated that Pompeo—one of China's strongest critics in recent years—would be one of the first to be sanctioned.

Communist Party newspaper Global Times, which represents Beijing's most hawkish views, said it was the first time high-level U.S. officials were included in targeted sanctions.

According to the state-owned tabloid, the measures announced by Beijing "could be made permanent" for senior diplomats such as Pompeo, whom China sees as the principal player pushing bills about Hong Kong in Congress.

Although it is unclear what practical difficulties the sanctions might cause the U.S. diplomatic service, the Beijing publication suggested that canceling visa waivers for Hong Kong and Macau would help to reduce American activity in the semi-autonomous areas, as would banning NGO members.

Newsweek has contacted the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau for comment.

Announcing the new U.S. sanctions, Pompeo said the State Department was "holding accountable" those who facilitated "Beijing's unrelenting assault against Hong Kong's democratic processes."

All 14 officials hit by the measures are vice-chairs of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's highest legislative body, which rubber-stamped the sweeping Hong Kong national security law this summer.

The committee's chairman, Li Zhanshu, so far remains unaffected by the measures.

Global Times called China's reciprocal actions the "strongest reaction" to the Trump administration's latest sanctions, designed to cause "real pain" to U.S. officials.

This article has been updated with additional information.

Secretary Mike Pompeo Visits Georgia
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to be high on the list of senior U.S. officials sanctioned by China after disagreements over its policies in Hong Kong. PATRICK SEMANSKY/AFP via Getty Images