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BEIJING -- China said Monday that it would sanction U.S.-based nonprofit organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy and Human Rights Watch, in retaliation for new U.S. legislation that supports Hong Kong's protesters.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not give details about the sanctions or articulate how the nonprofit groups' operations will be affected in the semi-autonomous city, where many maintain regional offices to conduct China-related work.

China also will suspend rest-and-recuperation visits to Hong Kong by U.S. military ships and aircraft, Hua said, adding that further moves are possible.

The move followed Chinese warnings that the U.S. would bear the costs if the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was approved.

The law, signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump, mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human-rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

The legislation was backed by U.S. lawmakers who are sympathetic to the protesters and have criticized Hong Kong police for cracking down on the pro-democracy movement.

Police say their use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other force is a necessary response to escalating violence by the protesters, who have blocked major roads and thrown gasoline bombs at officers in riot gear.

The sanctions could further elevate Hong Kong as a flash point between Beijing and Washington. The Chinese government has viewed the monthslong protests in Hong Kong as an American attempt to foment a "color revolution" rather than an outpouring of genuine anger over police conduct and declining political freedoms in the territory.

The National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and the International Republican Institute are among the institutions that will be sanctioned for their "odious behavior" in Hong Kong, where they have "strongly instigated extremely violent criminal activities," Hua told reporters in Beijing.

"They bear great responsibility for the current chaos in Hong Kong," she said. "These organizations deserve to be sanctioned, and they must pay the price for it."

China, echoing governments including Venezuela and Egypt, has previously taken aim at the National Endowment for Democracy, a group established in 1983 and funded by Congress to promote democracy worldwide. The Foreign Ministry in August distributed a lengthy report that named the the group as a U.S. intelligence front and listed its history of funding political groups in Hong Kong going back 20 years.

It is not immediately clear how the sanctions would affect foundations or corporations that donate to the blacklisted nonprofit organizations. Few of the groups have staff on China's mainland.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said his organization does not receive funding from any government and "regrets" China's announcement of unspecified sanctions.

Human Rights Watch has called on all sides of the protests to refrain from violence, he said. "Rather than target an organization that seeks to defend the rights of the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese government should respect those rights," Roth said.

Freedom House said the threat of sanctions strengthened its resolve to oppose the Chinese government's efforts to undermine human rights.

"We do not look to the Chinese Communist Party for permission to support such legitimate goals," Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said in a statement.

Foreign nonprofit workers inside China have long faced suspicion and a degree of vulnerability. Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat working for the International Crisis Group nongovernmental organization, has been detained for the past year on national security grounds. He was seized in the midst of a diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Ottawa.

Peter Dahlin, a Swede, was detained in 2016 for his involvement in providing legal aid to a network of Chinese activists that the Communist Party considered subversive.

China has elevated scrutiny of foreign nonprofit organizations since the passage of a nongovernmental-organization law in 2016 that gave security officials broad supervision powers.

Last week, Chinese officials disclosed for the first time a police investigation conducted under the law. The New York-based nonprofit Asia Catalyst, which worked on HIV-related public health projects in southern China, was investigated by Beijing police and fined, the Foreign Ministry announced.

China has previously denied permission to U.S. naval vessels to dock in Hong Kong at times of heightened tensions between the two countries, most recently in August.

"It's nothing new," said Willy Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "I think the major purpose of this is rhetorical: to try to convince the world that the U.S., whether it's the CIA or the NGOs, is trying to foment a color revolution in Hong Kong."

But with China's economy slowing and new tariffs looming, the rhetoric could only go so far.

"China really needs this trade deal," Lam said.

AD WORKERS STRIKE

In Hong Kong, several hundred people who work in advertising started a five-day strike Monday to show support for the anti-government protests. They said they would not go to work, respond to work emails or take part in conference calls.

Some held up signs with protest slogans at an early afternoon rally to launch the strike in Chater Garden, a public square in the central business district.

Antony Yiu, an entrepreneur in advertising and one of the organizers, said they want other business sectors to join them.

"The government seems to be still ignoring the sound of the majority of the people," he said. The advertising industry wants "to take the first step to encourage other businesses to participate in the strike to give more pressure."

More than 10,000 people marched on Sunday to try to pressure the government to address the demands after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory in district council elections one week earlier.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she'll accelerate dialogue but hasn't offered any concessions since the elections.

The protests are blamed for driving the economy into recession. Tourism, airline and retail sectors have been hit particularly hard, with retail sales down about 20%.

"The willingness of tourists coming to Hong Kong has been significantly affected," the city's financial secretary, Paul Chan, said Monday.

He said the government will run a budget deficit for the first time in 15 years because of falling tax revenue and greater spending to try to offset the economic slowdown.

Information for this article was contributed by Gerry Shih of The Washington Post; by Amy Qin of The New York Times; and by Ken Moritsugu, Dake Kang and Katie Tam of The Associated Press.

A Section on 12/03/2019

Print Headline: U.S. draws retaliation from China

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