28 Nov 2019
President Trump on Wednesday signed tough legislation that authorizes sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, signaling support for pro-democracy activists and escalating tensions with Beijing as Mr. Trump tries to negotiate a trade deal with Chinese leaders.
China’s Foreign Ministry was furious, saying the bill “seriously interfered with Hong Kong affairs, seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs, and seriously violated international law and basic norms of international relations.” The ministry warned the United States against acting arbitrarily and said that any consequences would “be borne by the United States.”
Whether Mr. Trump would sign the legislation had been a subject of debate. He refused to commit to doing so as late as last Friday, saying that he supported the protesters but that President Xi Jinping of China was “a friend of mine.” But Mr. Trump was left with few options: The bill had passed both the House and the Senate by veto-proof majorities.
Mr. Trump’s decision, publicly announced the evening before Thanksgiving and after markets had closed, throws a potential wrench into the United States’ bilateral trade talks with China. Both countries have tried to keep the Hong Kong issue separate from their negotiations, which have been moving slowly.
Mr. Trump said his decision was not a sign of disrespect toward Mr. Xi, even though China’s government had demanded that the president reject the measure. Mr. Trump had previously skirted around the battles between pro-democracy demonstrators and police officers enforcing China’s authoritarian stance in Hong Kong.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China and the people of Hong Kong,” Mr. Trump said in a statement on Wednesday. “They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long-term peace and prosperity for all.”
The second bill that Mr. Trump signed bans the sale of crowd-control munitions like tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police.
The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong expressed its strong displeasure, calling the two measures “unnecessary and unwarranted, and would harm the relations and common interests between Hong Kong and the U.S.”
The Hong Kong government vigorously argued that the bills were not necessary, especially after the territory was able to hold peaceful local elections last Sunday in which antigovernment candidates won 87 percent of the seats. The vote showed that “democracy is alive and well,” said Ronny Tong, a member of the cabinet of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive.
The main measure, titled the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would compel the United States to impose sanctions on officials. It would also require the State Department to annually review the special autonomous status it grants the territory in trade considerations. That status is separate from the relationship with mainland China, and revoking it would mean less favorable trade conditions between the United States and Hong Kong.
By Emily Cochrane, Edward Wong and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times, 27 November 2019
Read more at The New York Times
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