Four minutes past noon on Wednesday, while President Biden was still delivering his inaugural address, the Chinese government announced sanctions against 28 former U.S. officials and their families. Beijing was not simply kicking the Trump team on its way out the door; the Chinese leadership is trying to bully and threaten the incoming administration into reversing course. But it won’t work.
By commencing the new bilateral relationship with a provocative escalation, Beijing is attempting to warn incoming Biden administration officials they could suffer personal costs if they dare run afoul of the Chinese Communist Party’s delicate and paranoid sensibilities. China sanctioned former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, two of former president Donald Trump’s national security advisers, outgoing deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, former U.N. ambassador Kelly Craft and several other officials. Beijing justified the move by claiming that its targets “have planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Substantively, the sanctions are meaningless. There’s little chance John Bolton or Stephen K. Bannon — both of whom called the sanctions a badge of honor — will be harmed by a ban on traveling to or doing business in China. The true intent of the sanctions is to target incoming officials — an audacious attempt to intimidate them against continuing any of Trump’s policies. Former health and human services secretary Alex Azar was sanctioned presumably because he visited Taiwan. Craft was sanctioned for simply planning to visit Taiwan. (The trip was canceled after the failed Jan. 6 insurrection.)