(Bloomberg) -- China has called on the US to fulfill its “obligation” to allow Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee to attend a summit in San Francisco this year, underscoring the difficulty of engaging with sanctioned officials.

“We believe the US will deliver on its commitments and make sure that representatives of all APEC members, including Hong Kong, China, will participate smoothly,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.  

The US is set to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in November. Lee and other top Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials were put on Washington’s Specially Designated Nationals list in 2020 for their role in the crackdown on civil liberties in the city. Generally, US people or entities are banned from engaging with those on the list, unless an exemption is awarded.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday that he was “dismayed to learn the Biden Administration plans to waive the sanctions.” 

The letter cited comments from Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who said the US planned to invite Lee because it was “important to foster regional economic dialog.” Sherman made the comments in a written response to questions following testimony on Feb. 9 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a statement Friday, a State Department spokesman said no decision has been made about invitations for the summit and that the agency has inadvertently sent an incorrect answer to Congress. The spokesman said participation must follow US laws and regulations, including sanctions.

The US has imposed a raft of sanctions on China in recent years, with curbs on officials issued as an expression of displeasure with Beijing’s policies. Those measures have, at times, been a barrier to normal communication. China declined a meeting request between the two countries’ defense ministers at a security summit this month, saying the pair wouldn’t be on equal footing until sanctions were lifted on its minister, Li Shangfu.

Blinken Plans Trip to Beijing in Bid to Stabilize US-China Ties

Any decision by President Joe Biden to waive sanctions on Lee would be another sign of his determination to strengthen communication lines with China. Blinken is set to travel to Beijing in the coming weeks for talks with senior officials, including possibly Chinese President Xi Jinping, Bloomberg News reported this week. 

(Updates with State Department statement in sixth paragraph.)

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