The yellow-ribbon media lit up as soon as Washington announced economic sanctions on 11 current and former Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Anti-government YouTube influencers were ready to uncork champagne. Everyone agrees it was a dramatic escalation, as the United States rarely imposes sanctions against the head of a government. Perhaps. But this US administration has been sanctioning foreigners rather cavalierly, including against International Criminal Court personnel and their families for investigating possible war crimes committed by US troops. Of course, our blue-ribbon crowds act the same way whenever anti-government activists are arrested, put on trial, disqualified from election and/or put on the wanted list if they have fled the city. ‘Shameless and despicable’: Hong Kong decries US sanctions over security law Perhaps this is what people mean by mutual destruction. In case the two sides haven’t noticed, in the tit-for-tat fight between Beijing and Washington, it’s the locals, officials and civilians alike who are being punished. This is what happens when your city is turned into a proxy battleground in the rivalry between two powerful states. Those who think getting the Americans involved would change Beijing’s behaviour have miscalculated badly. For sure, it does change its behaviour – to make it go all out in vengeance over Hong Kong. Punishing some Hongkongers for their defiance was preordained. It’s clear that an opportunist like Donald Trump and an ideologue like Mike Pompeo are both in full provocation mode against China. For Trump, playing the anti-China card is the only realistic chance he has at winning a second term, even if that prospect recedes every time his utter and hopeless incompetence is put on full display. For Pompeo, it’s a moral and religious crusade. And if Hong Kong becomes collateral damage, too bad! But it’s clear by now that Beijing has no intention to get sucked into a real confrontation with the Americans. Still, it has to take action, and that means doing it in Hong Kong. This modus operandi is fairly consistent, not just in Hong Kong but elsewhere. After Huawei’s No 2 was arrested in Vancouver at the request of US prosecutors, Beijing went after the Canadians, rather than any individual Americans. It sends the message that there is a steep price to be paid for any country doing Washington’s bidding against the Chinese elites. Hong Kong people should take note: When your opposing side is being punished, you can be sure the hammer will fall on you next time.