Beijing announced sanctions against a slew of recently departed Trump administration officials over their positions on China on Thursday, barring them from entering or doing business with the country.
Among those sanctioned were former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, considered one of the key architects of the Trump administration’s hardline China policies.
In total, 28 people were targeted by the measures, which also apply to the individuals’ immediate family members. Besides mainland China, they will not be permitted entry to Hong Kong or Macau, while any companies or entities associated with them will be restricted from doing business with China.
In a statement issued in the early hours of Thursday morning Beijing time, a foreign ministry spokesperson said the individuals were responsible for a number of “crazy moves” that had “gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-US relations”.
Despite overseeing and priding himself in his administration’s hardline approach to China, former US president Donald Trump was himself spared from the sanctions.
Included in the list of individuals were three Trump administration officials who recently travelled or planned to travel to Taiwan: Alex Azar, the outgoing health and human services secretary, Keith Krach, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment, and Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN.
Azar became the first Cabinet secretary in six years to travel to Taiwan in August 2020, amid a push from Washington for Taiwan to be granted observer status at the World Health Organization.
Craft was scheduled to travel to Taiwan in the waning days of the Trump administration, but her trip was cancelled in the wake of the violent Capitol attack of January 6. At the time, Beijing had warned that the US would pay a “heavy price” over the visit.
Also targeted with the sanctions was David Stilwell, the Trump administration’s top diplomat for East Asia.
Beijing has previously announced sanctions against lawmakers and officials, but has rarely revealed the nature of the sanctions or the identities of those targeted to such a level of detail.
The measures against such senior – albeit former – officials mark an extraordinary capstone to a turbulent relationship between Beijing and the US government under Trump, who launched a trade war against China in July 2018.
Since then, tensions have boiled further, with the two countries clashing over Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, Beijing’s human rights record in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region (XUAR), Chinese companies operating in the US, the South China Sea, and more.
Beijing’s announcement was timed to come just minutes into the presidency of Joe Biden, who was sworn in to office at noon Washington time on Wednesday. The State Department, under new management, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Richard Boucher, a former US diplomat who served as Washington’s envoy to Hong Kong and Macau under Bill Clinton, said it was logical that Beijing had waited for the curtain to fall on the Trump administration before announcing the measures.
“Countries don’t normally put sanctions on serving officials because even under the most strained circumstances they have to deal with them,” said Boucher, who assessed the measures as largely symbolic.
“It’s not likely that these individuals would be travelling [to] or doing business with China – they’ve already made clear they want nothing to do with China. Nonetheless, the message is clear: don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Despite rhetoric from Republican critics claiming the opposite, Biden has pledged a tough approach to dealing with Beijing, and said he will not immediately remove any of the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods during Trump’s trade war.
Biden’s pick to succeed Pompeo, Antony Blinken, told a Senate panel on Tuesday that he agreed in general terms with the tough approach that the Trump administration had taken against China, but disagreed with some of its methods.
In addition, Blinken said he agreed with Pompeo’s declaration on Tuesday that the US government formally considered Beijing’s treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in XUAR constituted “genocide” and a crime against humanity.
Along with the recently departed administration officials, the new sanctions from Beijing also apply to Steve Bannon, who once served as Trump’s chief strategist, and John Bolton, the hawkish former national security adviser who became a vocal critic of Trump after his firing in 2019.