China suspends review of visits by American warships & sanctions NGOs in response to US signing of Hong Kong bill

Beijing has stopped allowing US Navy vessels to visit Hong Kong and “sanctioned” foreign NGOs after President Donald Trump signed a bill, which targets China over its response to anti-government protests and riots in the city.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said on Monday that China will no longer review requests by the American warships to dock in Hong Kong. The nation has already barred several US Navy ships from visiting Hong Kong in recent months.

Hua also announced that the country has sanctioned NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), for inciting protesters to commit “violent crimes” and promoting “separatism” in Hong Kong. These groups are “responsible for the current chaos” in the city, she told reporters.

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The spokesperson stressed that the measures are a direct response to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019, which was signed into law by Trump last week. The legislation allows the US to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials over human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

The US lawmakers argued that the law would help to uphold democracy and punish police officials for mistreating peaceful protesters.

Beijing, meanwhile, slammed the move as illegal under international law and an attempt to “seriously interfere in Chinese domestic affairs.” Chinese officials have repeatedly warned Washington against meddling in Hong Kong and accused American politicians, who openly backed the protesters, of encouraging riots there.

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Cuban Private Sector Hit Hard by Recent US Sanctions

In May, Trump fully enforced the Helms-Burton Act's Titles III and IV, suspended since 1996 that will expand the U.S. commercial and financial blockade against Cuba.

The non-state sector in Cuba is already registering a significant blow as a result of the U.S. sanctions implemented by President Donald Trump, with craftmanship dropping by about 60 to 80 percent in sales, according to local media.

During the Craftmanshift Fair in La Rampa, Hector Danilo Rodriguez, union leader, told Prensa Latina that the situation was the result of Trump's restrictions on travels to the Cuban territory, which impacts directly on tourism to the island.

"This (drop in sales) affects the payment of taxes and our families," he said, adding that "the Helms-Burton Act affects us directly because we do not have access to the raw material we need, nor the production techniques, on the top of the fact that it makes tourism impossible."

In May, Trump fully enforced the Helms-Burton Act's Titles III and IV, suspended since 1996 that will expand U.S. commercial and financial blockade against Cuba. In 1996, former U.S. president Bill Clinton approved the Helms-Burton Act under the idea that the blockade against Cuba had an extra-territorial scope and was not limited just to the island.

Title III allows U.S. citizens, including Cubans who acquired their nationality, to file lawsuits against foreign companies linked to properties nationalized after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, but it has never been activated. President Trump announced in March the U.S. would begin to enforce the measure, May 2.

The Helms-Burton Act's Title IV prohibits entry into U.S territory people being sued under Title III.

The most likely short-term effect is the large-scale withdrawal of foreign investors from Cuba, a country whose economy has around US$2 billion in foreign investments.

In addition, the Trump administration has announced more travel restrictions to the island, rolling back measures made by the Barack Obama administration, and is limiting remittances to US$1,000 per person per fiscal quarter. As of June 5, U.S. citizens are prohibited from making group educational and cultural trips known as “people to people” travel to Cuba, Secretary of Commerce Steve Mnuchin of the U.S. Treasury Department announced on March.

Cuban authorities have responded by developing six economic sectors: tourism, biotech and pharmaceutical industry, renewable energy, food production, professional services exports, and construction.

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Iran-Cuba Parliamentary Friendship Group Strongly Condemns US’ Anti-Havana Sanctions

Chairman of the parliamentary friendship group Mohammadreza Mansouri in a statement voiced the group members' all-out support for the people of Cuba in the face of the “domineering policies of Washington”, in addition to denouncing the unfair economic siege laid on Havana.

The Iranian Parliament appreciates the Cuban government’s efforts to protect its people from the inhumane consequences and material damage of Washington’s economic sanctions, read the statement.

The statement urged the parliaments of responsible countries to tap into their capacities to counter the unilateral and destabilizing measures of the US.

The Iranian foreign ministry had also in May lashed out at Washington for imposing fresh sanctions against Cuba, and stressed support for the Latin American country.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi condemned the US hostile policies against Cuba, specially lifting of waivers on Title III of the 1996 Holmes-Burton Act.

“Once again, Washington proved that it takes advantage of any illegitimate instrument to put pressure on independent countries and despite disagreement of the majority of UN members about economic embargo against Cuba, the US sees no restrictions for imposing inhuman sanctions against a country,” Mousavi said on May 09.

He underlined Iran's support for the Cuban nation and government against the US sanctions and threats, calling on other countries to take effective measures against the US violation of the international law.

Effective May 2, the US administration lifted a longstanding ban against American citizens lodging lawsuits against foreign businesses that use properties taken by Cuba's Communist government since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every US president over the past 23 years due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the US court system with a flood of lawsuits.

The US is reportedly seeking to pressure the Havana government into giving up its support for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The European Union and Canada, whose companies are the top investors in Cuba, particularly in the tourism and mining sectors, have denounced the Trump administration’s implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.

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Russia Refuses to Link Nuclear Reduction with Sanctions

Moscow, Jan 16 (Prensa Latina) Russia today rejected the possibility of discussing with the United States a relationship between the reduction of nuclear weapons and the suspension of unilateral sanctions against it, as Donald Trump's team would propose.

There is no such deal, the Kremlin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, referring to an arrangement for further reduction of the nuclear arsenal of both nations.

Peskov recalled that Moscow was not at all the initiator of the imposition of sanctions and it is not also prepared to state its suspension in the coming meetings with foreign representatives, he said.

The issue of cutting atomic weapons in Russia and the United States could be discussed only after President-elect, Donald Trump, takes office in the White House, the spokesman said.

In statement to Times, Trump said he would pose to Russia the substantial decline of the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction of the two states, and the possibility of repealing sanctions against Russia.

I can put an end to the restrictions of the West against Moscow, after reaching an agreement on the nuclear reduction, said Trump, who as a Republican candidate defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton on November 8.

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Lavrov: Policy of restraining Russia continues, high time to drop it

The US and the EU are still pursuing a dangerous policy of restraining Russia, including the NATO military build-up near its borders, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said, adding that Moscow is ready to cooperate on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.

“The policy of restraining Russia continues, though it is high time to drop this policy and file it in the historical archives,” Lavrov told a media briefing in Moscow.

He agreed that relations between Moscow and the West would never be the same again.

“Our western colleagues say sometimes that there will be no more ‘business as usual’ with Russia – and I’m confident that statement is absolutely correct,” Lavrov said.

“There will be no more business as usual after they attempted to impose agreements on us respecting the interests of either the European Union or the US in the first place, trying to convince us that they will not damage our interests,” he said. “That’s over now.”

Russia concerns won’t restrict NATO missile defense – US official

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Moscow is ready for “close, constructive cooperation” with its western partners, yet solely and only on an equal and mutually beneficial basis, “without interference into each other’s internal affairs, with respect for the principal interests of each side,” Lavrov said.

Western countries are still trying to “accrue one-sided benefits" and even attempting "to punish us for conducting an independent international policy,” Lavrov said.

“Of course, we take that into account in our actions. But that’s not our choice.”

NATO's build-up near Russia’s borders is shortsighted, the Russian foreign minister said, adding that Moscow would keep an eye on the concentration of military potential in neighboring countries.

"Now we see the counterproductive and dangerous policy in relations with Russia, including the build-up of NATO's military potential near our borders and the creation of global European and Asian segments of a global US missile defense," Lavrov said.

He added that Moscow considers such actions destabilizing and shortsighted.

Hype surrounding Litvinenko case will ‘worsen’ Russian-British relations

The hype surrounding the Aleksandr Litvinenko case is going to “definitely worsen” Russian-British relations, Sergey Lavrov acknowledged.

Speaking on the conclusions of the public investigation regarding the death of the former FSB officer Litvinenko, who died of polonium poisoning in London in 2006, Lavrov called attention to the “gravest accusations brought against the Russian leadership without providing any evidence at all.”

Lavrov added that should “a savvy lawyer take up the case and analyze the facts and the statements made by the British policymakers, they could be held liable for libel.”

Moscow not interested in crumbling EU

“We’re not interested in the EU getting weaker, leave alone the union splitting up. We are interested in a united and strong European Union, a comfortable partner on the economy and all other issues. But we cannot fail to see the current developments,” Lavrov went on, emphasizing the decisive role of Germany in maintaining EU’s unity.

Syrian peace talks impossible without Kurds

No peace talks to resolve the Syrian crisis can be successful without the Syrian Kurds participating in them, Lavrov said. Yet the final decision on whether to invite the Kurds remains with the UN's Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, and Moscow is not going to veto it.

“We’ve been hearing from certain members of the international Syrian support group, I’d say from one member, doubts about whether the Syrian Kurds, more specifically the Democratic Union Party [PYD], should be invited to the talks. I believe that without that participant the talks will fail to deliver the result we expect, which is a final political settlement in Syria,” Lavrov said, pointing out that the Kurds make up to 15 percent of Syria’s population and inhabit a “considerable, moreover crucial territory.”

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Ukraine crisis

Official Kiev perceives Western sanctions against Russia as a license to ignore the conditions of the Minsk-2 agreements, Lavrov said.

“Prolongation of the sanctions is being taken for the West’s agreement that Kiev could abstain from fulfilling the agreements,” he stated.

“We don’t want anyone to form policies out of misconception that it is Russia, not Ukraine, who must fulfill the Minsk-2 agreements,” Lavrov warned, noting that contacts with Victoria Nuland suggest that the US understand the essence of Minsk-2 agreements well.

North Korean ‘thermonuclear test’ questionable

Moscow is not sure that Pyongyang tested a thermonuclear device on January 6, Lavrov said.

If it was actually a thermonuclear test, that would mean that the UN resolution, introducing stiff restrictions on the supply of nuclear materials to North Korea, is not working and that Pyongyang is still managing to acquire what it needs for its military nuclear program, Lavrov said.

“If the test was an explosion of yet another ‘regular’ nuclear device – then the restrictions do work,” he said.

The Russian foreign minister stressed that there should be no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula at all, either North Korean or South Korean, nor the “elements of American nuclear weapons that should not be deployed to South Korea.”

The nuclear security of the Korean peninsula cannot be discussed without Pyongyang, Lavrov added.

“We’ve heard those proposals from South Korea to hold a 6-1 meeting, without North Korea. I don’t think this is a good idea, because once again it would mean we’re trying to isolate someone,” Lavrov said, instancing Iran as a country that expanded its nuclear program with a “colossal momentum” with wide international sanctions in place.

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