China has said it would retaliate after US President Donald Trump ordered an end to preferential trade treatment for Hong Kong and signed legislation allowing sanctions over Beijing’s enactment of a draconian security law in the semi-autonomous city.
In a statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry said it “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which unanimously passed the US Congress earlier this month and approves sanctions on Chinese officials and banks over Beijing’s clampdown in Hong Kong.
“China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities,” the ministry added, without elaborating.
The Chinese warning came amid mounting tensions with the US – not just over Hong Kong – but also over trade, the global coronavirus pandemic, China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
Trump on Tuesday stepped up the pressure to punish Beijing for what he called its “aggressive actions” in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of autonomy and freedoms not known in mainland China.
“Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China – no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies,” he said.
“Their freedom has been taken away; their rights have been taken away,” Trump added. “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.”
Trade surpluses, sanctions, travel bans
China had defied international warnings earlier this month by imposing the national security law, which criminalises offences it broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation sent a chill through Hong Kong, which last year saw massive, and sometimes violent, pro-democracy protests.
In response, the US Congress unanimously passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which targets police units that have cracked down on Hong Kong protesters as well as Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for imposing the new security law.
Mandatory sanctions are also required on banks that conduct business with the officials.
Trump’s executive order on Tuesday said the US property of any person determined to be responsible for or complicit in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong” would be blocked.
It also directs officials to “revoke license exceptions for exports to Hong Kong”, and includes revoking special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders.
However, analysts say that completely ending Hong Kong’s special treatment could prove self-defeating for the US.