Just bluster? Beijing angered after Trump signs HK acts, but little sign of dent to trade talks

29-Nov-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

China on Thursday attacked the US administration after President Donald Trump after he signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, calling it a “blatant hegemonic move”, but observers said Beijing was unlikely to retaliate in a way that would undermine ongoing trade talks.

Trump’s signing of the legislation, which had broad bipartisan support in the United States, was no surprise. However, Beijing had repeatedly said there would be consequences. For now, those consequences seem to be largely anger.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned US ambassador to Beijing Terry Branstad to make its views clear.

“For the erroneous act by the US, China will certainly take firm countermeasures and the US side will be fully responsible for all the consequences,” vice foreign minister Le Yucheng told Branstad.

China should not overreact to the US move but should be prepared to counter if the US uses the act to put pressure on China in the future, according to Lu Xiang, a research fellow on US-China relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“The act is a card but the US can only play it once,” Lu said, adding that he expected Washington to also tread cautiously. If the US imposed sanctions under the act the biggest victim would be the Hong Kong public, he said.

“Bilateral relations are extremely complicated. It’s a chemical compound, not a mechanical relationship like in the cold war,” Lu said.

“China wants to cooperate with the US but we are also prepared for [ties] falling apart.”

A government adviser on China’s trade policy echoed the view, saying the act was a threat to Hong Kong but will not have immediate impact.

“China is not in a hurry to sign a trade deal [with the US],” the adviser, who declined to be named, said in reference to the year-long trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump signed the act into law on Wednesday, endorsing legislation that could bring diplomatic action and economic sanctions against the Hong Kong government.

Lu said China saw the disputes with the US on Hong Kong and trade as separate issues.

Before Le and Branstad met, the foreign ministry said the act “severely infringed on Hong Kong affairs, seriously interfered in China’s internal politics, and gravely violated international laws and the basic principles of international relations”.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) China’s top office overseeing Hong Kong policy soon followed with its own criticism, saying the act was “full of prejudice and arrogance” and underscored the “sinister intention” of the US.

Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng declined to comment on the trade talks between China and the US, and Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong act.

“Information about the trade talks was already made public on Tuesday… and as for Hong Kong, the relevant departments have already explained the stance of the Chinese government,” Gao said.

Trump also signed into law the Protect Hong Kong Act, which will prohibit the sale of US-made munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi [Jinping], China and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said. “They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences, leading to long-term peace and prosperity for all.”

The democracy act allows Washington to suspend Hong Kong’s special trading status based on an annual US assessment of whether the city retains a sufficient degree of autonomy under “one country, two systems”. It can also sanction people for acts undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, and directs its officers not to deny visas to people subjected to “politically motivated” arrests or detentions.

In its response, China’s foreign ministry said Beijing remained committed to implementing one country, two systems the principle under which Hong Kong retained certain freedoms and a degree of autonomy in its 1997 handover from Britain to China.

However, the Hong Kong government said the signing of the bills would “send an erroneous signal to protesters, which is not conducive to alleviating the situation in Hong Kong”.

It added that the US had “enormous economic interests” in Hong Kong and the “unilateral” actions by Washington would have negative impacts on its relationship with Hong Kong and on American interests.

About 5,800 people have been arrested during almost six months of protests, triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China’s opaque legal system.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a Hong Kong activist and leader of the civic group Demosisto, said that both Beijing and the Hong Kong government should respond to the passage of the act by de-escalating the situation and investigating allegations of police brutality. Wong has actively campaigned for the act in the past five years.

He added that his party would continue to push for similar legislation in Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia.



Category: China

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