Beijing Threatens Retaliation After Trump Signs Law Sanctioning Officials for Hong Kong Abuses

July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020

Beijing has threatened retaliation after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order and a bill into law to hold China accountable for its recent actions in Hong Kong.

Trump on July 14 signed into law the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, paving the way for the U.S. government to slap sanctions on Chinese officials and entities responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. The bill was passed unanimously by the House and Senate in early July in response to China’s formal adoption of a national security law for Hong Kong on June 30.

Trump also signed an executive order for a list of new U.S. policies on Hong Kong, including ending the United States’ preferential trade treatment of Hong Kong, suspending an extradition treaty signed with the Chinese-ruled city, and allow additional refugee admission for residents of Hong Kong on humanitarian concerns.

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Trump said he signed the bill and the executive order “to hold China accountable for its oppressive actions against the people of Hong Kong.”

Beijing reacted angrily to Trump’s moves. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, saying that the United States had “brusquely interfered with China’s internal affairs” with the signing of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.

The Chinese ministry added that Beijing will impose retaliatory sanctions against U.S. individuals and entities. The statement, however, did not make mention of Trump’s executive order.

China’s hawkish state-run newspaper Global Times, in an article published on July 15, quoted a remark by Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 29, wherein he called the Hong Kong Autonomy Act “a piece of scrap paper.”

According to the Global Times article, Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative to the standing committee of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, said Beijing “has made full preparations” in the event that U.S. sanctions are imposed on Chinese officials.

In Hong Kong, Regina Ip, a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council (akin to the cabinet) and former security secretary, told local media on Wednesday that the U.S. moves were “irrational and unreasonable.” She added that she believed Beijing and the Hong Kong government would respond with countermeasures.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng defended the national security law when asked by reporters about the U.S. moves. She then echoed the statement by China’s foreign ministry, saying that countries should not interfere with the “internal affairs” of other countries.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and protesters have welcomed the new U.S. law and Trump’s executive order.

“The beginning of the end of the #HK we know. Sad but true. #HKers are not giving up & are hanging in here to fight to restore #HK’s glory!” wrote Alan Leong, chairman of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Civic Party, on his Twitter account, in response to Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law.

Joshua Wong, iconic figure from the 2014 Umbrella pro-democracy movement and a candidate running for a seat in Hong Kong’s legislature, stated that he was glad to see Trump sign the bill into law.

“Given Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on Hong Kong, this bipartisan legislation offers the administration new tools to respond,” Wong wrote on his Twitter account.

Wong then called on U.S. Congress to pass the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act. The bill proposes that Hong Kong residents, who have “a well-founded fear of persecution,” be eligible for Priority 2 Refugee status, which allows for resettlement in the United States.

Citizens’ Press Conference, an advocacy group established by Hong Kong protesters, issued a brief statement on the messaging app Telegram. The group was created last year amid large-scale protests against Beijing’s growing encroachment into city affairs.

The group said that Hongkongers have used their “two feet, blood, and tears to repeatedly show the world their will of steel in pursuing democracy and freedoms.”

It added that “glory will return” to the people of Hong Kong if they continue to believe in their cause and be united.

In the UK, local NGO Hong Kong Watch welcomed Trump’s executive order in a message on its Twitter account.

“This is a major decision, and is a sign of the way that the National Security Law has shattered international trust in one-country, two-systems,” Hong Kong Watch wrote, referring to the framework by which Beijing promised to rule Hong Kong upon its transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.

It added: “We are pleased to see our key asks of refugee provision, sanctions, and no extradition incorporated.” 

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer