China to sanction U.S. officials for ‘nasty behaviour’ over Taiwan

© Reuters/FLORENCE LO FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attends a news conference in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. officials who have engaged in “nasty behaviour” over Chinese-claimed Taiwan will face sanctions, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, after Washington lifted curbs on exchanges between U.S. and Taiwanese officials.

Sino-U.S. ties have worsened as China has already condemned this month’s easing, announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Further adding to China’s anger, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, spoke last week to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, after a planned trip to Taipei was called off.

Asked at a daily news briefing how China would follow through on its pledge to make the United States “pay a heavy price” for its engagements with Taiwan, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said some U.S. officials would face sanctions.

“Owing to the wrong actions of the United States, China has decided to impose sanctions on responsible U.S. officials who have engaged in nasty behaviour on the Taiwan issue,” she said, without elaborating.

When asked about U.S. sanctions on six mainland and Hong Kong officials announced last Friday over the mass arrests in Hong Kong, Hua said that China has decided to impose sanctions on U.S. officials, members of Congress, personnel at non-governmental organisations and their family members over their “nasty behaviour” on the Hong Kong issue.

China said last month it would sanction U.S. individuals as a reciprocal response to the U.S. sanctions on more than a dozen Chinese officials. It was unclear from Hua’s reply on Monday whether the Hong Kong-related sanctions were new.

Hua also did not specify the names of the U.S. officials under sanction and the nature of the sanctions.

Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as president on Wednesday, and a new team will take over at the State Department, including a new secretary of state.

China says Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in its relationship with the United States, and has previously announced sanctions on U.S. companies selling weapons to Taiwan, though it has not been clear how, or if, they were enforced.

Beijing has responded to increased U.S. support for Taiwan, including arms sales and visits by senior U.S. officials, by stepping up military activity near the island, including flying its air force aircraft nearby.

Relations between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, have plunged to their lowest level in decades, with disagreements on issues including Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights, the coronavirus pandemic, the South China Sea, trade and espionage.

China last year unveiled sanctions on 11 U.S. citizens, including lawmakers from Trump’s Republican Party, in response to Washington’s sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials accused of curtailing political freedom in the former British colony.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)