President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an order to fully end the special treatment extended under U.S. law to Hong Kong, saying that he will hold China accountable for its “oppressive actions” against the people of the former British colony.
“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 at a press conference. He also signed into law a bill to impose sanctions on foreign individuals and entities allegedly involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom.
The move is the latest in a series of U.S. actions to pressure China over its recent implementation of a national security law on Hong Kong. China later condemned the U.S. move, with the Foreign Ministry saying in a statement that Beijing will take “necessary measures” to protect its legitimate interests and will slap sanctions on the American people and entities concerned.
The national security law has enabled Beijing to crack down on what it views as subversive activity in the territory despite its promise to ensure a high degree of autonomy and freedom of expression. In line with China’s “one country, two systems” policy, the United States has given Hong Kong a special status separate from the rest of mainland China, such as over trade matters and visa issuance.
But as China pushed ahead to implement the national security law, the United States in late June began revoking the special status by ending controlled defense exports to Hong Kong. The executive order signed by Trump on Tuesday said the U.S. government will revoke license exceptions for exports to Hong Kong and treat Hong Kong passport holders in the same manner as it does those from China.
The United States will also block the assets of people who have engaged in actions that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong, according to the order. The Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which Trump signed Tuesday, penalizes banks that do business with officials who implement China’s national security law on Hong Kong.
Seeing his job approval rate slipping as the coronavirus ravages the United States ahead of the November presidential election, Trump appears to be attempting to cast himself as tough on China, a perceived positive among voters, in contrast to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“No administration has been tougher on China than this administration,” Trump said, while repeating accusations that China concealed the outbreak of the coronavirus which was first detected in the country late last year before spreading globally.
Trump has continued to downplay concerns about the coronavirus despite parts of the country continuing to see surges in infection numbers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 58,858 new cases countrywide on Monday.
Approximately 136,000 people have died in the United States due to the virus, a figure that is much higher than any other country in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over the past months, U.S.-China relations have increasingly soured as the two countries clash over issues ranging from the origin of the pandemic to China’s alleged human rights abuses against its Muslim Uyghur minority.
Adding further tension to relations, the U.S. State Department said Monday it is taking a tougher stance against China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, calling Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the disputed waters “completely unlawful.” The U.S. Navy said Tuesday that it conducted the freedom of navigation operation near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where China has continued to engage in militarization and construction of facilities.
There is no sign that the relationship between the two economic giants will improve anytime soon. Asked by a reporter whether he plans to have talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said at the press conference, “I have no plan to speak to him.”
Under China’s “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong was promised it would enjoy the rights and freedoms of a semiautonomous region for 50 years after the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. China’s national security law on Hong Kong outlaws acts of separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with external forces. Those who commit the offenses can be punished with up to life in prison.