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China bars US military ships, aircraft from Hong Kong, sanctions US-based NGOs

BEIJING (Reuters) — China on Monday banned U.S. military ships and aircraft from visiting Hong Kong and slapped sanctions on several U.S. non-government organizations for allegedly encouraging anti-government protesters in the city to commit violent acts.

The measures were a response to U.S. legislation passed last week supporting the protests which have rocked the Asian financial hub for six months. It said it had suspended taking requests for U.S. military visits indefinitely, and warned of further action to come.

“We urge the U.S. to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs. China will take further steps if necessary to uphold Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and China’s sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news briefing in Beijing.

China last week promised it would issue “firm counter measures” after President Donald Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which supports anti-government protesters in Hong Kong and threatens China with sanctions for human rights abuses.

There are fears that the dispute over Hong Kong could impact efforts by Beijing and Washington to reach a preliminary deal to de-escalate a prolonged trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

In more normal times, several U.S. naval ships visit Hong Kong annually, a rest-and-recreation tradition that dates back to the pre-1997 colonial era and one that Beijing allowed to continue after the handover from British to Chinese rule.

“We have a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, and we expect that to continue,” said a U.S. State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“False accusations of foreign interference” against the U.S. NGOs “are intended to distract from the legitimate concerns of Hong Kongers,” the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn said port visits to Hong Kong and elsewhere around the world served as a useful program to “provide liberty for our sailors and expand people-to-people ties with our hosts.”