During the past 2 years, the US government has intensified its economic sanctions against China. These sanctions have been enacted & imposed by several government branches and executive departments, including Congress, President, Commerce, Treasury, Defense, & Justice, and were based primarily on the following federal statutes:

  • International Emergency Powers Act of 1977
  • National Emergencies Act of 1976
  • Export Administration Act of 1979
  • Export Control Reform Act of 2018
  • Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2012
  • United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992
  • Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019
  • Hong Kong Autonomy Act of 2020
  • Section 1237 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999
  • Defense Production Act of 1950
  • Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act of 2020
  • Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930

It has been questioned whether prior economic sanctions were effective against smaller authoritarian regimes such as Iraq, Iran, or N Korea. (See, eg, here & here.) The effectiveness of these sanctions against China, the second largest economy in the world, can be even more uncertain, particularly considering the potential counter measures by China. (See, eg, here & here.)

Moreover, sanctions may be subject to changes in politics and enforcement variations. For example, on 5/16/2019, the Commerce Department added Huawei and its subsidiaries to the export blacklist, but a few days later granted a temporary general license to the sanctioned entities for more than a year, until 8/17/20, when the temporary general license was replaced by more limited but permanent authorizations. Additionally, many of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration are expected to be modified by the upcoming Biden administration.

Regardless of their level of effectiveness, these sanctions do minimally provide certain information contents – those actions & actors that have been determined by the US government (Congress, President, & executive agencies) to “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat […] to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States”. (§1701(a) of the International Emergency Powers Act.) Such information may be valuable in risk assessments, for example with respect to business transactions, even if not for compliance purposes.

Below is an incomplete list of some of the sanctions against China imposed by US in the past 2 years, grouped into 6 categories: Technology (Huawei), Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Defense, Technology, & Investment. The citations of the sanction statutes, orders, & rules (in Pub L or Federal Register), if available, are included, so one can readily find more info, such as the identities of the sanctioned entities.

CategoryDateGovernment Branch / AgencyDescriptionSource
Technology (Huawei)5/15/19PresidentProhibited purchase & use of telecommunication equipment made by companies posing national security risk84 FR 22689
 5/16/19CommerceAdded Huawei & 68 affiliates to export blacklist84 FR 22961
 8/19/19CommerceAdded 46 Huawei affiliates to export blacklist84 FR 43493
 5/15/20CommerceRequired foreign semiconductor makers to obtain license to ship Huawei-designed semiconductors produced using US technology to Huawei85 FR 29849
 8/17/20CommerceAdded 38 companies to export blacklist85 FR 51596
Xinjiang10/8/19CommerceAdded 28 companies, government entities & security bureaus to export blacklist84 FR 54002
 6/17/20CongressEnacted Uyghur Human Rights Policy ActPub L 116-145
 7/9/20TreasuryAdded 4 individuals & 1 entity to OFAC sanction list85 FR 42981
 7/22/20CommerceAdded 11 companies to export blacklist85 FR 44159
 7/31/20TreasuryAdded 2 individuals & 1 entity to OFAC sanction list85 FR 47838
 1/13/21Homeland SecurityProhibited entry of cotton & tomatoes from Xinjiang 
Hong Kong11/27/19CongressEnacted Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy ActPub L 116-76
 7/14/20CongressEnacted Hong Kong Autonomy ActPub L 116-149
 7/14/20PresidentRevoked HK special status85 FR 43413
 8/7/20TreasuryAdded 10 HK officials to OFAC sanction list85 FR 55073
 12/8/20TreasuryAdded 14 high-level Chinese officials to OFAC sanction list 
Defense6/12/20DefenseAdded 20 companies to list of “Communist Chinese military companies” 
 8/27/20CommerceAdded 24 state-owned companies to export blacklist85 FR 52898
 8/28/20DefenseAdded 11 companies to list of “Communist Chinese military companies” 
 12/3/20DefenseAdded 4 companies to list of “Communist Chinese military companies” 
 12/18/20CommerceAdded 59 individuals & companies to export blacklist85 FR 83416
Technology8/6/20PresidentProhibited transactions with TikTok & WeChat85 FR 48637; 85 FR 48641
 9/24/20CommerceIdentified prohibited transactions with TikTok85 FR 60061
 1/5/21PresidentProhibited transactions with persons developing or controlling Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, and WPS Office86 FR 1249
Investments11/12/20PresidentProhibited purchase of securities of “Communist Chinese military companies”85 FR 73185
 12/18/20CongressEnacted Holding Foreign Companies Accountable ActPub L 116-222