The previous week, Congress passed a bill aimed at strengthening human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. China urged President Trump to veto to the bill – to no avail. Now, one week later, Trump has signed the bill into law, despite China’s treats of “harsh countermeasures”.
So far, Trump had hitherto held back criticism of China’s crackdown on the democracy movement in Hong Kong as he continues to negotiate with Beijing in the one-and-a-half-year trade war. It is the reason he had been reluctant to sign the bill at first. The decision made now is unlikely to increase the bilateral relations any time soon.
Nonetheless, Trump had no choice but to sign the bill. If he had vetoed it, Senate, as well as the House, would have overridden his veto via a two-thirds majority – leaving the President embarrassed and seemingly outnumbered by his own party. After all, Congress had voted on Hong Kong’s “Human Rights and Democracy Decree” despite fierce protests and threats from Beijing with only one vote against in the House of Representatives.
Inter alia, the law threatens economic sanctions that could deprive Hong Kong of its preferential treatment of US economic and trade policies with China. For this purpose, annual reports from the State Department to the Congress are planned as to whether Hong Kong is still sufficiently autonomous from China to further justify its preferential treatment. Civil rights will be given special consideration in the law. Moreover, the law provides for the President to impose sanctions on individuals held responsible for serious human rights violations in Hong Kong. President Trump summed up the bill as a plan for China and Hong Kong to “settle their differences amicably to achieve lasting peace and prosperity for all.”
A caveat remains, however, as the administration will treat parts of the laws differentiated, so it will not undermine the constitutional authority of Trump on foreign policy issues, according to the White House. Details and what this entailed have not been disclosed yet.
Beijing’s response has been rather direct. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the bill in favor of “tacitly violent criminals”. It was an open intervention in China’s internal affairs, intending to throw Hong Kong further into chaos or even destroying it.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was equally critical and stated that “facts were neglected in the bill”, while also accusing Washington of interference and violation of international law.
A Beijing State Department spokesman criticized Washington for “blatantly supporting violent criminals who trampled on the rule of law and endangered the social order.” The United States’ actions, which he also labeled as a “conspiracy” were a testimony of America’s “hegemonic nature”. The Chinese government was unwavering in its resistance to interference by foreign forces in Hong Kong. “We advise the US not to act arbitrarily, otherwise China will take decisive action and all consequences must be borne by the US.”
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing stated that Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng had summoned US Ambassador Branstad to demand an immediate end to “such policies and further damage to bilateral relations”.
The protests in Hong Kong are increasingly exacerbating tensions between the US and China. Relations have been tensed for months due to the trade dispute. Both countries have penalized each other with tariffs worth billions of Dollars.
According to Trump the talks on a trade agreement were in the final stages. For now, Beijing will beg to differ.