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China imposes sanctions on Republican U.S. lawmakers over Hong Kong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China imposed sanctions on 11 U.S. citizens including lawmakers from President Donald Trump Republican Party on Monday in response to Washington’s imposition of sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials accused of curtailing political freedoms in the former British colony.

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Those targeted were six Republican lawmakers - Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Pat Toomey and Representative Chris Smith - as well as individuals at non-profit and rights groups.

“In response to that wrong U.S. behaviour, China has decided to impose sanctions on individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press briefing on Monday.

He did not specify what the sanctions entail.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said the Chinese sanctions were “symbolic and ineffectual”, but declined to say if the U.S. government would respond.

“A growing number of nations around the globe are demanding real action from Beijing”, she told reporters, citing widespread concerns about the national security law imposed on Hong Kong. “This President has stood strongly against China and will continue to do so.”

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have deteriorated sharply in recent months over issues ranging from trade, to Hong Kong and China’s handling of the novel coronavirus. Trump has made tough talk against China a feature of his campaign for re-election.

China’s sanctions are the latest in a tit-for-tat round of measures between Beijing and Washington over accusations of rights abuses and interference.

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the city’s current and former police chiefs.

The U.S. lawmakers targeted by China on Monday have been among vocal critics of a new national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in late June.

Members of Congress typically take sanctions from U.S. adversaries as compliments, not problems. Hawley’s office issued a statement that he would not “back down” and that he would “continue defending America’s interests.”

It was the second time recently China has announced sanctions against Republicans. Last month, Beijing targeted Cruz, Rubio and Smith after Washington penalized Chinese officials over the treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Beijing’s latest measure includes sanctions against the heads of five U.S.-based, non-government organizations. All five groups had been subjected to sanctions in December in connection with their positions on Hong Kong.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Cate Cadell, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alistair Bell