US President Donald Trump said Tuesday he was ending preferential trade treatment for Hong Kong and had signed into law an act that authorises sanctions on banks over China’s clampdown in the international finance hub. Trump has vowed a clamp down on China on what he deems as defiance by the latter country of the US-led global order.
In a discursive news conference dominated by attacks on his domestic rivals, Trump declared himself to be the toughest president ever on China, a country he is increasingly positioning as his nemesis ahead of November elections.
Trump clamps down on China: ends preference for Hong Kong
Trump announced that he had issued an executive order on Hong Kong as he predicted decline for the restless city, on which Beijing recently imposed a tough new security law.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China — no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.
“Their freedom has been taken away; their rights have been taken away,” Trump added.
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“And with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets. A lot of people will be leaving Hong Kong.”
#BREAKING: Donald Trump to sign a bill and executive order punishing China for its actions in Hong Kong.
The President also said he held Beijing responsible for concealing coronavirus at the start of a now global pandemic and "unleashing it upon the world."
— Avi Yemini (@OzraeliAvi) July 14, 2020
Trump also said he had signed into law the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorises sanctions against Chinese officials and Hong Kong police seen as infringing on the city’s autonomy — and, crucially, any banks that make significant transactions with them.
Lawmakers hope the new law will force all but provincial Chinese banks to choose between abetting Beijing’s efforts in Hong Kong, or being able to conduct transactions in US dollars and operate in the world’s largest economy.
“This law gives my administration powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom,” Trump said.
Trump clamps down on China: Lawmakers call it a ‘swift rebuke’
The White House acknowledged concerns that the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, a tougher follow-up to a law last year, limits the president’s leeway to waive sanctions.
But the act enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, meaning Congress could likely override any presidential veto.
“Today, the United States made clear to China that it cannot continue its assault on freedom and human rights in Hong Kong without severe repercussions,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who spearheaded the law.
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“The Chinese government’s aggression merits this swift rebuke,” he said.
Beijing defied international warnings by imposing the security law, which criminalises subversion and other offences in Hong Kong, to which it promised autonomy before Britain handed the territory back in 1997.
The law has sent a chill through the financial hub, which last year saw massive and sometimes destructive pro-democracy protests.
China has quickly put the law to use, on Monday warning that a primary among pro-democracy parties in which 600,000 Hong Kongers participated was a “serious provocation.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed the primary and called for Hong Kong’s legislative elections due in September to be “equally free and fair.”
US and China tensions escalate as Trump clamps down on China
Trump has stepped up pressure on China on multiple fronts, especially on the coronavirus pandemic, news of which Beijing suppressed when the illness first emerged in Wuhan.
Critics both at home and abroad accuse Trump of seeking to divert attention from criticism of his handling of COVID-19 in the United States, which has suffered by far the highest death toll of any country.
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On Monday, Pompeo also stepped up the tone on the dispute-rife South China Sea, declaring most of Beijing’s claims to be illegal.
The Trump administration last week imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials over the incarceration of more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.
China vows to retaliate to Hong Kong order
China has vowed to retaliate after Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under US law to punish China for what he called “aggressive actions” against the former British colony. China says the Hong Kong Autonomy Act “maliciously slanders” its legislation in Hong Kong.
In a strongly worded response, China’s ministry of foreign affairs on Wednesday said no country has the right to interfere in what it deemed “purely China’s internal affairs”.
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“US efforts to thwart the implementation of Hong Kong’s national security will never succeed. In order to defend its own legitimate interests, China will respond as necessary and impose sanctions on the relevant American individuals and entities.
“We urge the US to correct its mistakes. If the US stubbornly pursues this path, China will give a firm response.”
“China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk