Trump says US to end Hong Kong’s preferential treatment, withdraw from WHO

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Trump addresses a news conference on China in the Rose Garden of the White House. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The United States will end its preferential treatment of Hong Kong and cut ties with the World Health Organisation (WHO), said President Donald Trump on Friday (May 29) in a broad sweep of announcements responding to what he called a "pattern of misconduct" by Beijing.

"The United States wants an open and constructive relationship with China but achieving that requires us to vigorously defend our national interests," he said, at a briefing where he also announced action over China's handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, state-directed industrial espionage, and fraud by Chinese companies.

The US will revoke Hong Kong's preferential treatment as a customs and travel territory from the rest of China, said Mr Trump at the White House Rose Garden.

He added that the policy change will affect the full range of US-Hong Kong agreements from extradition to export controls, with few exceptions.

The US has treated Hong Kong separately from mainland China in matters of trade and commerce by law, which spared the city's exports from US tariffs on Chinese goods as part of the trade war.

Mr Trump's announcements come days after the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China to warrant special treatment, in response to recent developments, including an imminent national security law that would tighten the central government's control over Hong Kong.

"China claims it is protecting national security, but the truth is that Hong Kong was secure and prosperous as a free society. Beijing's decision extends the reach of China's security apparatus into what was once a bastion of liberty," said Mr Trump.

The US will also sanction mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in "absolutely smothering" Hong Kong's freedom, and the State Department will revise its travel advisory for Hong Kong to reflect the "increased danger of surveillance and punishment by the Chinese state security apparatus", said the President.

He did not give a timeline for when the actions would be taken, nor did he answer questions from reporters.

The US will also end its relationship with the World Health Organisation, which Mr Trump accused of being under the "total control" of the Chinese government.

He said that Chinese officials ignored their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressed the WHO to mislead the world when Chinese authorities first discovered the virus, attacks on the global health agency which critics say are meant to distract from the high coronavirus case count and death toll at home.

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Mr Trump last week threatened to permanently end America's funding for and membership of the WHO unless it committed to snap reforms, which he did not publicly detail. Just over a week later on Friday, Mr Trump said the WHO "refused to act".

Mr Trump said he was instructing the Presidential Working Group on Financial Markets to study the practices of Chinese companies listed on US financial markets, so as to protect American investors.

"Investment firms should not be subjecting their clients to the hidden and undue risks associated with financing Chinese companies that don't play by the same rules," he said.

The move comes on the heels of a Senate Bill passed last week that could delist Chinese companies from American exchanges if they fail to let a federal watchdog look into their books, following long-running concerns from investors about the lack of transparency from Chinese companies.

The Trump administration also issued a proclamation to block certain Chinese nationals identified as security risks from entering the US on student or exchange programme visas.

The move was aimed at dismantling China's ability to use graduate students to steal intellectual property and technology from the United States, said the White House. It added that students who come to the United States for legitimate reasons would not be affected.

Said Centre for the National Interest senior director Harry Kazianis: "Trump now seems set to cast Beijing into a Cold War-style adversary, a sort of enemy along the lines of the old Soviet Union, a foe America must rise to the challenge against and contain its actions."

He added: "From quitting the WHO, blaming China for the coronavirus, to now trying to take Beijing to task for its actions in Hong Kong, a dangerous superpower showdown is brewing that could set the direction of US foreign policy for the next decade or more."

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