• Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

China passed a new law to counter foreign sanctions, a move which experts say is the latest “tit-for-tat” measure against the US

ByDavies

Jun 12, 2021
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China passed a new law to counter foreign sanctions, a move which experts say is the latest “tit-for-tat” measure against the US, but one that is largely symbolic.

Key points:

  • Sanctions against Chinese people or organisations could lead to visas being rejected and property and assets being seized
  • The scope and penalties of the new law are more powerful than had been expected
  • It’s seen as responding in particular to sanctions laid over China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong

China’s Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law, which was signed off by President Xi Jinping this week, is a wide-ranging legal framework to retaliate against sanctions imposed by foreign governments.

Mr Xi last November called for legal methods to defend the country’s sovereignty, security and interests, after the US and the EU increased sanctions against Chinese officials due to Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.


“It can be viewed as a manifestation of the new Cold War, which is nothing more than a confrontation between the two sides through various aspects, other than military means,” said Deng Yuwen, a researcher at the China Strategic Analysis Centre think tank, which is based in the US.

Mr Deng, formerly the deputy editor of the Central Communist Party School’s official newspaper, told the ABC the law was China’s latest “tit-for-tat countermeasure” to “legitimise” its retaliation against foreign entities.

While there has been growing concern the law may further intensify China-US tensions, details of the legislation were only made public after it came into effect around 11:30pm on Thursday, hours after Beijing passed it into law by decree.

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s in the new law?

We now know the law will punish “discriminatory measures” against Chinese citizens and organisations by putting them on an anti-sanctions list.

Those on the list could have their visas rejected or be expelled from the country, while their assets could be frozen or seized.

Their business activities in China may also be restricted.

A “relevant department” in the Chinese government decides which individuals will be put on the anti-sanctions list.

Early assessments of the law suggest some sections are more powerful than predicted, both in scope and penalties.

However, experts say there are already measures like this in place, so the thrust of the law was a “symbolic” move by Beijing.

Why now?

Earlier this year, the US Department of Treasury sanctioned Chinese government officials in connection with alleged serious human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

It came after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she had to pile up cash at home as she was unable to have a bank account in the global financial centre, since Washington sanctioned her after Beijing imposed the national security law.

Three months ago, the Chinese legislature said in its annual work report that upgrading the country’s “legal toolbox” was essential to addressing the risks of foreign sanctions and interference.

Zhang Dongshuo, a prominent human rights lawyer in China, told the ABC the wording of “discriminatory measures” meant the law didn’t have a clear explanation.

“From this point of view, how this law will be implemented and applied in real life is subject to the corresponding implementation of rules and judicial interpretation.”

Mr Zhang is the defence lawyer for Robert Schellenberg, the Canadian who was sentenced by a Chinese court two years ago for smuggling 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from China to Australia in 2014.

Mr Schellenberg’s sentence was upgraded to the death penalty a month after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou for violating US sanctions on Iran.

Mr Zhang said countermeasures detailed in this law existed before the legislation.

“The law has more of a declaratory effect to demonstrate the Chinese government’s attitude and position on countermeasures.”

Is the law aimed at the US?

While the law could be used against any country that imposes sanctions on China, experts say it is “obviously” targeting the US.

This month, Washington enforced a new ban on 59 companies including Chinese tech giants Huawei and chip maker SMIC.

The ban, which was signed by President Joe Biden in an executive order, prevented Americans from investing in the Chinese companies with alleged ties to the defence or surveillance technology sectors.

Beijing has condemned the move by accusing Washington of “overextending the concept of national security and abusing its national power”.

“China urges the US to respect market rules and principles and rescind the so-called list that suppresses Chinese companies,” said Wang Wenbin, the foreign ministry spokesperson.

 

Though the law will very likely impact China’s international relations, Mr Deng said it is also seen as a way to protect Chinese companies and citizens, especially those who are subjected to foreign sanctions.

“It is clear that it is to counteract foreign sanctions — if you sanction me, then I will counter you,” Mr Deng said.

Professor Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Relations at China’s Nanjing University, told the ABC that the law’s passing means China has taken a new step into the strategic debate with the US.

“It’s a new setup for China-US relations … a move that will benefit China’s law-making process.”

What does the law mean for Australia?

 

Australia’s barley farmers are among those to have been affected by Australia and China’s deteriorating relations.

Beijing has been increasingly known for its “wolf-warrior” diplomacy — a more aggressive approach for China’s international relations under Mr Xi’s rule.

Beijing has taken action against Australian exports since last year, impacting Australian products including wine, beef, barley and coal imports.

Mr Deng believed that China wouldn’t use the law to target Australia, as long as Canberra didn’t implement sanctions on Chinese companies and citizens.

“If the Australian government has not sanctioned China, there is no need to worry,” Mr Deng said.

However, Mr Deng said Australia might face different treatment than the US, because Canberra’s political power was not comparable to Washington.

“The deterioration of Australia-China relations may only stop when Canberra has to throw in the towel, rather than China’s giving up.”

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