US working on 'strong response' to China's security law plans

It is to be announced by end of week; EU chief says bloc wants to help protect HK autonomy

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said the United States was working on a strong response to China's planned national security legislation for Hong Kong, and it would be announced before the end of the week.

European Union chief Charles Michel also said on Tuesday that the bloc wanted to help protect Hong Kong's autonomy.

China's Parliament is expected to approve today the proposed national security legislation that would reduce Hong Kong's separate legal status, calling into question the special economic status the territory currently enjoys under US law.

At a White House news briefing on Tuesday, Mr Trump was asked if he planned sanctions against China over Hong Kong, and if he intended to put restrictions on visas for students and researchers from China.

"We're doing something now. I think you'll find it very interesting... I'll be talking about it over the next couple of days," he replied.

Asked if this would include sanctions, he said: "No, it's something you're going to be hearing about... before the end of the week, very powerfully, I think." He did not elaborate.

China responded to the comments with a warning that it would retaliate against any new measures.

"We will not accept any foreign interference, and to the wrong actions of outside powers in interfering in Hong Kong, we will take necessary countermeasures to hit back," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing yesterday. "The issue... is purely China's internal affair."

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said yesterday the US has certified that Hong Kong is no longer politically autonomous from China, a move that could have far-reaching consequences on the city's special trading status with the US.

"Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as US laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997," he said in a statement. "No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground."

The move yesterday was compelled by last year's Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The law signed by Mr Trump requires such a certification each year.

NO FOREIGN INTERFERENCE

We will not accept any foreign interference, and to the wrong actions of outside powers in interfering in Hong Kong, we will take necessary countermeasures to hit back.

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN ZHAO LIJIAN

Mr Pompeo's decision opens the door for a range of options, from visa restrictions and asset freezes for top officials to possibly imposing tariffs on goods coming from Hong Kong.

Under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Washington agreed to treat Hong Kong as fully autonomous for trade and economic matters even after China took control. That meant Hong Kong was exempt from Mr Trump's punitive tariffs on China, can import certain sensitive technologies and enjoys US support for its participation in international bodies like the World Trade Organisation.

But the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act enacted last year gives the administration broad authority to impose sanctions or other punishments. The administration can also revoke Hong Kong's special trading status if it chooses.

Mr Michel, president of the European Council, which groups the 27 member states, said the EU attaches great importance to the preservation of Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy.

Yesterday, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, speaking on China's new security law plans, said: "The Cabinet will come up with a Hong Kong humanitarian assistance action plan... to provide complete planning for Hong Kong people's residency, accommodation and care."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2020, with the headline 'US working on 'strong response' to China's security law plans'. Print Edition | Subscribe