Tensions between the United States and China continue to increase, with US President Donald Trump recently signing a bill into law that aims to punish those who “wipe out Hong Kong’s freedom.” However, his intentions are not solely based on China’s behavior.

Holding Beijing Accountable for ‘Repressive Actions’

In the dispute over Hong Kong’s autonomy, President Trump signed a sanction law against China. It aims to hold Beijing accountable for “repressive actions” against the people of Hong Kong, the president stated.

The law the president signed equips the government of the United States with mechanisms against Chinese individuals and institutions that threaten the freedom of Hong Kong. Previously, The House of Representatives and the Senate had passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act at the beginning of the month in a bipartisan effort.

China passed the controversial Hong Kong national security law late last month. It targets conduct Beijing considers subversive, separatist, or terrorist, while also grant the tool to punish what China calls clandestine agreements between Hong Kong independence advocates and foreign governments.

Targeting Chinese Nationals With Sanctions and Travel Restrictions

The now signed bill provides for sanctions that may freeze the property of Chinese nationals in the United States and prevent these individuals from entering the country. Punitive measures can also be imposed on foreign banks that, from the US perspective, contribute to China’s efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy. In practice, the latter could materialize in US financial institutions being prohibited from lending to affected Chinese banks.

Besides the bill, Trump also signed an order that will end all preferential treatment for Hong Kong, which will primarily affect economic factors, export controls, customs duties and the issuing of visas, effectively treating Hong Kong as China moving forward. The latter had been announced first in May and is a result of China’s increased interference in Hong Kong.

US-China Tensions Are on the Rise

The new US sanctions will likely further intensify tensions between the United States and China. Trump recently blamed China for the global spread of the coronavirus. When asked, Trump said he had no plans to speak to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The timing of Trump’s signature, meanwhile, is not a coincidence. The current tensions with China are not only sought but needed. Besides Joe Biden, Trump has been utilizing Beijing as one of his primary calling cards for his re-election campaign. The playbook thus entails the “law and order” president Trump who is not only standing up for the people of Hong Kong but stands his ground against the Chinese regime, which his base considers being the United States’ primary adversary at this stage. Accordingly, any future Chinese retaliation plays into Trump’s hands.

‘One Country, Two Systems’

The former British crown colony of Hong Kong has been mainly managed autonomously since it was returned to China in 1997, according to the “one country, two systems” principle. The United States sees China’s security law as a clear violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.

The efforts taken by the United States in regard to Hong Kong are not new. In yet another bipartisan effort, Congress passed almost unanimously two pieces of legislation that aimed to support the protests in Hong Kong. The president signed the bill into effect in November, while Beijing complained about the United States’ “overt interference in internal affairs”.

Hong Kong Citizens Face Increased Repression

Unlike the people in the Communist People’s Republic, the seven million Hong Kong citizens enjoy extensive rights such as freedom of assembly and expression, as promised in 1997. However, due to the newly imposed security law, the likelihood of severe restrictions of their freedoms has increased significantly.

The law has been criticized throughout Western democracies, and further sanctions — not only from the US but also the UK and eventually the European Union alike — seem inevitable at this stage.

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