China Threatens Retaliation Against Possible US Sanctions Over HK Security Law

May 29, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020

Chinese authorities have been leveling threats against the United States in the past few days, in the face of possible U.S. sanctions against China after Beijing passed a national security law for Hong Kong.

On May 28, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a draft resolution of the law, which will pave the way for Chinese security agencies to operate in the city. Beijing’s endorsement of the resolution drew immediate criticism and outcry from many local pro-democracy lawmakers.

Later on the same day, President Donald Trump announced he will hold a press conference on China on Friday. It is widely expected that the president will announce a set of measures, such as suspending Hong Kong’s preferential tariff rate, to pressure Beijing into giving up its new law for Hong Kong that it has passed without going through the city’s own legislature.

All eyes on the president tomorrow. Let’s see what happens. I very much hope the administration will strike the right balance between exerting economic pressure on China and defending Hong Kongers’ rights. https://t.co/26dlZ7cuIr

— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) May 29, 2020

The Chinese threats began on May 27 when Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, stated in a daily briefing that the security law was part of China’s “internal affairs.”

“If someone is bent on harming China’s interests, China will take all necessary measures to hit back,” said Lijian in response to a reporter’s question about possible U.S. sanctions.

On Thursday, the Office of the Commissioner of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, issued a statement accusing the United States of being “shameless” for talking about possible sanctions against China if it challenges the autonomy of Hong Kong as it views as protected under the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984. It said that there would be “resolute countermeasures” if the United States “is stubborn to push ahead.”

China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times published an editorial on May 28, stating that U.S. suspension of Hong Kong’s preferential tariff rate would be “a double-edged sword,” that would also “hurt U.S. companies.”

China’s hostile move to strip #HongKong of its autonomy under the pretense of national security is wrong. I stand with the people of Hong Kong who deserve freedom, independence, and protection from unjust persecution. pic.twitter.com/zxoiUTMHAt

— Rep. Daniel Lipinski (@RepLipinski) May 28, 2020

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government echoed the Global Times’s language in a press release responding to the U.S. State Department’s 2020 Hong Kong Policy Act Report.

“Any sanctions are a double-edged sword that will not only harm the interests of Hong Kong but also significantly those of the U.S.,” stated the Hong Kong government.

There are over 1,000 American businesses operating in Hong Kong.

On May 26, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong issued a statement expressing concerns about the national security law. It urged Beijing to “find ways to peacefully de-escalate the situation in Hong Kong and preserve the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”

On May 27, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China in his report to Congress.

The U.S. secretary of state is required to certify every year whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Being autonomous is a prerequisite for Hong Kong to enjoy special economic and trading privileges with the United States as a separate entity from mainland China under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act.

“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] increasing denial of the autonomy they were promised,” the policy report concluded.

Washington-based organization Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) called on Trump to “declare Hong Kong a national emergency pursuant to International Emergency Economic Powers Act” following the NPC vote.

The law grants the U.S. president the power to regulate American commerce, such as imposing severe economic penalties on entities or countries that are designated as a threat to U.S. interests.

Protesters Worry About Dissident Persecution

One day after Beijing passed its national security law, lawmakers and members of the pro-democracy Civic Party were seen handling out pamphlets that warn Hongkongers of the implications of the CCP’s national security law on their existing freedoms of speech, assembly, and their access to a free press.

The flyer explained different scenarios in which Hongkongers would likely be at risk of breaking the CCP’s national security law. For instance, using the words “Free Hong Kong” and “autonomy” could lead them to being found guilty of secession; criticism against China, the Chinese Communist Party, and Chinese leaders could be considered “subverting the state”; and contacting foreign legislatures and speaking to foreign officials could be interpreted as “colluding with foreign forces” that threaten China’s “national security.”

Hong Kong lawmakers
Kwok Ka-ki (front) and Alvin Yeung, both Civic Party lawmakers, in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, on May 29, 2020. (Xiao Long/The Epoch Times)

There were also “lunchtime” protesters who gathered in opposition to Beijing’s law at the IFC shopping mall in the Central district.

According to a recent survey conducted by Citizens’ Press Conference, an advocacy group established by Hong Kong protesters, an overwhelming majority of responders—93.1 percent—said that they anticipate China’s security agents will “employ extreme and extrajudicial means to persecute dissidents, such as extradition to mainland China, unlawful arrests, and extrajudicial punishments.”

Additionally, 90.1 percent said they feared that online discussions about the anti-CCP, pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong would “become a high-risk activity” once the security law was enacted.

Three Hong Kong activists—Sunny Cheung, Joshua Wong, and Nathan Law—have set up an online petition urging the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, and other non-EU countries to pressure Beijing to withdraw its security law.

It also urged these countries to incorporate clauses that protect Hong Kong’s human rights in any trade agreements with China.

At the time of writing, over 60,200 people have signed the petition.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer