UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — China summoned the US ambassador on Thursday and threatened to retaliate after President Donald Trump signed a law supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters as the world’s two biggest economic powers seek a trade truce.
Trump signed the bill under heavy pressure from Congress, where the legislation received rare bipartisan support. He spoke in a statement of “respect” for Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling on the parties to “settle their differences amicably.”
But Beijing responded angrily and summoned the US ambassador, threatening to take “firm countermeasures” while urging Washington not to enforce the law.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said the US move was “very repugnant and has malicious intentions.” The ministry added later that “China strongly urges the US side to correct its mistakes and change course.”
“The United States believes that self-government in Hong Kong, its compliance with the rule of law and its commitment to the protection of civil liberties are critical to maintaining its own status under US law,” a US embassy spokesman said.
In Hong Kong, the government expressed “deep regret” after Trump signed the law to review Hong Kong’s freedoms on an annual basis and banned the sale of equipment used to control crowds such as tear gas.
“The two laws clearly interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” the Hong Kong government said, warning that the move would “send the wrong message to the protesters.”
The Beijing liaison office in the city condemned Washington’s “disgusting” behavior, saying it would cause “problems and chaos” in Hong Kong.
– “Timely” effect –
Hong Kong residents have demonstrated in large numbers over the past six months on the back of years of growing fears that China will restrict freedoms in the city.
The Beijing-backed regional government has made few concessions, while police have carried out a tight security crackdown on protesters as part of increasingly violent clashes.
More than 5,800 people have been arrested and some 1,000 charged, while arrests have increased over the past two months.
On Thursday, police stormed the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus after blockading it for days.
Most of the demonstrators left the scene, some of them arrested and beaten as they tried to flee while police gathered evidence including incendiary bombs and archery from the scene.
But the violence has not affected much of the popular support for the movement, as candidates defending democracy won a landslide victory in the local council elections that took place this weekend.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act forces the US president to review the city’s preferential trade status annually and threatens to abolish it if freedoms in the semi-autonomous region are restricted.
Trump also signed a law banning the sale of liquefied gas, rubber bullets and other equipment used by Hong Kong’s security forces to crack down on protesters.
Also in Washington, Republican senators Marco Rubio and Jim Rich, along with Democrats between Cardin and Bob Menendez, issued a joint statement welcoming Trump’s decision.
“The United States now has new and meaningful tools to prevent further influence and interference by Beijing in Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” Rubio said.
Activists in Hong Kong said the move was aimed at building international support for their movement.
Student Sani Xiong, who testified before Congress in support of the law, told AFP that he would give “the people of Hong Kong the ability to influence in time to pressure Hong Kong and Beijing to introduce democratic reforms.”
Later Thursday, democracy activists planned a march to express their appreciation to the parties that supported their movement.
– bipartisan support –
There has been speculation that Trump may block the law to protect his chances of securing a trade deal with China as his campaign gets momentum for a second term next year.
But he would have faced the prospect of being politically humiliated by Congress, where two-thirds of the votes could overturn the president’s decision at a time of growing pressure after the pro-democracy camp won a majority in Sunday’s local elections.
“I am happy that the President has signed this law and I look forward to its immediate entry into force.”
Trump said Tuesday that he was “on the side” of the protesters, but soon retreated, stressing his strong ties to Xi and his efforts to find a solution to the trade war between the two countries.
“Things are going very well but we want to see them going well at the same time in Hong Kong,” he said. “I think that will happen. I think President Xi is able to do that.”
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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