Trump ends Hong Kong preferential status: What this means and the Chinese reaction
"Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China," Trump said at the White House. He said he had also signed bipartisan legislation to impose sanctions on Chinese officials who crack down on rights in Hong Kong.
In a move that showcases the US administration's increasingly hardening stance on China, President Donald Trump has ordered to an end to Hong Kong's special status under US law to punish China for what he called "oppressive actions" against the former British colony, prompting Beijing to warn of retaliatory sanctions.
Citing China's decision to enact a new national security law for Hong Kong, Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that he said would end the preferential economic treatment for the city. "No special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies," the Republican leader told a news conference.
Acting on a Tuesday deadline, he also signed a bipartisan legislation to impose sanctions on Chinese officials who crack down on rights in Hong Kong. The US law also targets Chinese businesses and banks.
"Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong, Trump said at the Rose Garden. "Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China," he added.
WHAT IT MEANS?
Trump said the Hong Kong Autonomy Act provided “powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom”. He also signed an order rescinding special trade and economic privileges for the Asian financial centre.
Now, US property would be blocked of any person determined to be responsible for or complicit in "actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong", according to the text of the document released by the White House.
The legialation also directs officials to "revoke license exceptions for exports to Hong Kong," and includes revoking special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders.
CHINA VOWS RETALIATION
China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday Beijing will impose retaliatory sanctions against US individuals and entities in response to the law targeting banks, though the statement released through state media did not reference the executive order.
"Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs and no foreign country has the right to interfere," the Ministry said. Critics of the security law fear it will crush the wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, while supporters say it will bring stability to the city after a year of sometimes violent anti-government protests.
The security law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
NEW LOW IN U.S., CHINA TIES
The US relations with China have already been strained over the global coronavirus pandemic, China's military buildup in the South China Sea, its treatment of Uighur Muslims and massive trade surpluses. On Monday, the Trump administration rejected China's military build-up in the South China Sea, accusing it of bullying neighbours.
Last Friday, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that a "phase two" trade deal with China was in doubt because of its handling of coronavirus.
Trump's own administration is under scrutiny for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic -- the US has 3.4 million recorded cases, the highest in the world. His handling of the health crisis has raised doubts about whether he can win re-election on November 3 amid a surge of new infections. He has attempted to deflect blame onto China.
'CHINA CONCEALED VIRUS, UNLEASHED IT UPON WORLD'
"Make no mistake. We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world. They could have stopped it, they should have stopped it. It would have been very easy to do at the source, when it happened," Trump said as he also lashed out at the World Health Organization (WHO) for siding with China on this issue. "They were really a puppet of China," he said.
Asked if he planned to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said: "I have no plans to speak to him."
Trump also slammed former Vice President Joe Biden, who is his Democratic challenger in the November presidential polls, for being "soft" on China.
"By contrast, my administration acted very early to ban travel from China, from Europe, saving all of these lives. Incredible. And I want everyone to know, I want every citizen to know that we are using the full power of the federal government to fight that China virus and keep our people safe. Through Operation Warp Speed, we will deliver a vaccine in record-breaking time," he said.
"He (Biden) said the idea that China is our competition is really bizarre. He is really bizarre. He said China is not a problem. No. Nobody has ripped us off more than China over the last 25, 30 years, nobody close, and he says China is not a problem. Now he takes it all back. Now he wants to be mister tough guy. But for years, 47 years, he never came out against China, never said anything bad, just the opposite," the President said.
He said Biden expresses more fawning praise about China on an ordinary day than about America.
Analysts say that completely ending Hong Kong's special treatment could prove self-defeating for the United States.
Hong Kong was the source of the largest bilateral US goods trade surplus last year, at $26.1 billion, US Census Bureau data shows.
According to the State Department, 85,000 US citizens lived in Hong Kong in 2018 and more than 1,300 US companies operate there, including nearly every major US financial firm. The territory is a major destination for US legal and accounting services.
The United States began eliminating Hong Kong's special status under US law in late June, halting defense exports and restricting the territory's access to high-technology products as China prepared to enact the security legislation.
In May, Trump responded to China's plans for the security law by saying he was initiating a process to eliminate the special economic treatment that has allowed Hong Kong to remain a global financial centre.
He stopped short then of calling for an immediate end to privileges, but said the moves would affect the full range of US agreements with Hong Kong, from an extradition treaty to export controls on dual-use technologies.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration was also preparing sanctions against Chinese officials and entities involved in the Hong Kong crackdown, including further US travel bans and possible Treasury sanctions.
The timing remained unclear. The White House has previously threatened such sanctions but so far has only imposed restrictions on visas for an unspecified number of unnamed Chinese officials.
NEW YORK TIMES TO RELOCATE PART OF HONG KONG OFFICE TO SEOUL
The New York Times will shift part of its Hong Kong office to Seoul, in an ominous move as worries grow that the new national security law China imposed on the financial hub two weeks ago would curb media and other freedoms in the city.
The Times said its employees have faced challenges securing work permits and it would move its digital team of journalists, roughly a third of its Hong Kong staff, to the South Korean capital over the next year.
The move delivers a blow to the city's status as a hub for journalism in Asia, and comes as China and the United States have clashed over journalists working in each other's countries. Earlier this year, Beijing said journalists no longer allowed to work in mainland China could not work in Hong Kong either.
"Given the uncertainty of the moment, we are making plans to geographically diversify our editing staff," a spokeswoman for The Times told Reuters. "We will maintain a large presence in Hong Kong and have every intention of maintaining our coverage of Hong Kong and China."
Earlier this year, Washington began treating five major Chinese state-run media entities the same as foreign embassies, then slashed the number of journalists allowed to work for Chinese state media to 100 from 160, previously.
In retaliation, China said it was revoking the accreditations of American correspondents with the New York Times, News Corp's Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post whose credentials expire by the end of 2020.
Beijing has also expelled three Wall Street Journal correspondents -- two Americans and an Australian -- following an opinion column by the newspaper that called China the "real sick man of Asia".