China struck back at the U.S. on Friday for President Joe Biden’s condemnation of its shutdown of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper. Meanwhile, American senators on Friday called for an even more hardline U.S. response.
Earlier this month, some 500 policemen raided the Apple Daily newsroom and arrested five of its top executives. The paper’s assets were also frozen.
The tabloid-style paper, the city’s leading opposition voice, said on Wednesday afternoon that it would stop updating its website after midnight and put out its last print edition on Thursday. Hong Kongers bought the papers en masse to show their support and keep as mementos.
Biden said the paper’s closure heralded a “sad day for media freedom” and was the result of “intensifying repression by Beijing.”
“Through arrests, threats and forcing through a National Security Law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called his comments “baseless” and accused him of “interfering in Hong Kong affairs on the pretext of press freedom.”
Two of Apple Daily’s arrested executives, editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong and publisher Cheung Kim-hung, have been charged under the security law of conspiring to collude with foreign forces. Three others have been released pending further investigation.
U.S. senators Pat Toomey and Chris Van Hollen urged Biden in a bipartisan letter on Friday to go a step further and impose sanctions on those responsible for the paper’s closure via the Hong Kong Autonomy Act passed last year.
The act mandates sanctions on people or entities that directly undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, as well as on banks that do business with them.
Hong Kong’s Security Secretary John Lee has threatened foreign banks HSBC and Citibank with jail time for any business conducted with Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai.
Lee was promoted on Friday to become Hong Kong’s second-in-command as chief secretary, while police chief Chris Tang was promoted to Lee’s current role — moves giving security officials greater power over the territory and tightening Beijing’s control.