After U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned Beijing that any violent crackdown against Hong Kong protesters would harm Sino-U.S. trade talks, Chinese state-run media began publishing commentaries that criticized him and the U.S. government, threatening to “take real action” and “punch back” in ongoing negotiations.
“For the United States to make a deal with China, Beijing needs to honor its commitments—beginning with the commitment China made in 1984 to respect the integrity of Hong Kong’s laws through the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Pence said in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Aug. 19.
The comments reiterated remarks made by U.S. President Donald Trump a day earlier, when he said, “I think it’d be very hard to deal if they [China] do violence, I mean, if it’s another Tiananmen Square,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey, referring to the Chinese regime’s bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in 1989.
The president and other U.S. officials have been more vocal about Hong Kong after mainland authorities recently mobilized paramilitary soldiers to conduct “anti-riot” exercises near the border with Hong Kong, where mass protests stemming from opposition to an extradition bill have entered their 11th straight week.
Pence was referring to a 1984 bilateral treaty drafted to stipulate how Hong Kong’s sovereignty would be transferred to China from Britain in 1997; both sides agreed to retain the territory’s autonomy, and freedoms not afforded on the mainland, under the “one country, two systems” model. Protesters view the now-suspended extradition measure, which would allow the Chinese regime to transfer individuals to face trial in mainland China, as a further erosion of the city’s autonomy.
Since Trump linked the Hong Kong protests with the possibility of a trade deal, Chinese state-run media have adopted more belligerent rhetoric toward the United States.
China’s state-run China Central Television (CCTV) commented on Pence’s speech in its Aug. 20 evening daily news program Xinwen Lianbo, which is broadcast simultaneously by all local TV stations in mainland China, claiming that the Sino-British Joint Declaration had “become a historical document” on July 1, 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to mainland China.
“As U.S. vice president, Pence used an outdated historical document to interfere with China’s internal affairs. He not only made himself an international laughingstock, but also shamed the image of the United States,” the CCTV anchor said.
CCTV criticized the U.S. government for “linking the Hong Kong issue directly to the U.S.-China trade agreement,” and also reprimanded Twitter and Facebook for suspending tens of thousands of fake accounts that spread misleading information about the Hong Kong protests—which both social media platforms said they traced to Chinese authorities.
The broadcaster stated that the reason for the U.S. government’s response is “because the U.S. didn’t achieve results with China after a long period of time [in trade talks] and became impatient.”
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mouthpiece People’s Daily similarly reprimanded the United States for linking the Hong Kong protests with the trade war, writing in an Aug. 19 commentary: “Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs, which are completely different from the U.S.-China economic and trade consultations. It means that some U.S. politicians reached their hands too far for their own dirty purpose.”
U.S.-based commentator Tang Jingyuan told The Epoch Times that the Chinese regime is expressing anxiety about two major crises possibly converging.
“The Chinese economy is declining, with production lines moving out of China,” Tang said in an Aug. 21 interview. The downturn, compounded by U.S. tariffs, has added to Beijing’s fears that economic instability would cause people to challenge the Party’s authority.
“And politically, it has a huge pressure from the Hong Kong issue,” Tang said.
The People’s Daily commentary also said the Chinese regime would retaliate in response to the United States’ new position on Hong Kong, calling the U.S. action “political extortion.”
“We not only dare to say no, but also have enough strength to fight back,” it said.
The article also quoted former CCP leader Mao Zedong: “to avoid 100 impending punches, you need to punch the other party first,” implying that Beijing should deal with the United States in order to avoid criticisms from other countries.
In recent days, Hong Kong media reported that Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen and a staffer at the city’s British consulate, had gone missing after taking a work trip to Shenzhen, the mainland Chinese city bordering Hong Kong.
Confirming media speculation about Cheng’s disappearance, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily press conference on Aug. 21 that Cheng was being held under 15-day administrative detention in Shenzhen on suspicion of violating a Chinese law for “public order” disturbances.
Geng offered no further details on where Cheng was being detained; Cheng’s family has released a statement seeking his whereabouts.
While the regime claims that the Sino-British Joint Declaration is outdated, Li Jinjin, a U.S.-based lawyer, told The Epoch Times that’s not the case.
“The Sino-British Joint Declaration is valid. Anybody has basic legal knowledge knows that,” he said.
The treaty serves as the foundation for Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s constitution drafted by officials from both Hong Kong and mainland China. Li was part of the team that drafted Hong Kong’s Basic Law in the late 1980s while studying for his doctor of law at Peking University, and has extensively researched the city’s legal system.
After the Sino-British Joint Declaration was approved by the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC), the regime’s rubber-stamp legislature, it became part of Chinese law, Li said.
As such, the agreement remains valid, Li said, until both the British parliament and the NPC vote to pull out of the accord.