US President Donald Trump on Tuesday stripped Hong Kong of preferential trade treatment and authorized sanctions on banks over China’s clampdown in the financial hub, infuriating Beijing, which vowed to retaliate.
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 the US presidential election in November.
Trump announced that he had issued an executive order on Hong Kong as he predicted decline for the territory, on which Beijing recently imposed tough national security legislation.
“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 Rose Garden at the White House.
“Their freedom has been taken away; their rights have been taken away, 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,” Trump said.
Trump also said that he had signed into law the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorizes sanctions against Chinese officials and Hong Kong police seen as infringing on the territory’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.
China yesterday vowed to retaliate, saying that the act “maliciously slanders” its legislation in Hong Kong.
“China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The White House acknowledged concerns that the act, a tougher follow-up to a law last year, limits the president’s leeway to waive sanctions.
However, the act enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, meaning that the US 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 US Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who spearheaded the law.
“The Chinese government’s aggression merits this swift rebuke,” he said.
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