WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Friday he would strip several of Hong Kong’s special privileges with the United States in response to China’s attempt to exert control in the financial hub.
The United States and Britain also raised alarm at the UN Security Council over a controversial new security law for Hong Kong.
The US president attacked China over its treatment of the former British colony, saying it was “diminishing the city’s longstanding and proud status.” “This is a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, the people of China and indeed the people of the world,” Trump said.
Trump also said he was terminating the US relationship with the World Health Organisation, which he has accused of pro-China bias in its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Trump did not provide specifics and avoided personal criticism of President Xi Jinping, with whom he has boasted of having a friendship even as the two powers feud over a rising range of issues.
“I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy that gives Hong Kong different and special treatment,” Trump said. “This will affect the full range of agreements, from our extradition treaty to our export controls on dual-use technologies and more, with few exceptions,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday informed Congress that the Trump administration would no longer consider Hong Kong to be separate under US law, but it was up to Trump to spell out the consequences.
China this week pressed ahead on a law that would ban subversion and other perceived offenses against its rule in Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of massive pro-democracy protests last year.
In one move that could have long-reaching consequences, Trump issued an order to ban graduate students from US universities who are connected to China’s military. “For years, the government of China has conducted elicit espionage to steal our industrial secrets, of which there are many,” Trump said.
The FBI in February said it was investigating 1,000 cases of Chinese economic espionage and technological theft. Any move to deter students is unwelcome for US universities, which rely increasingly on tuition from foreigners and have already been hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown.
China has been the top source of foreign students to the United States for the past decade with nearly 370,000 Chinese at US universities, although Trump’s order will not directly affect undergraduates.
Trump’s order could also trigger retaliation. China in March expelled US journalists after the Trump administration tightened visa rules for staff at Chinese state media.
The United States and Britain earlier in the day urged China to reconsider the Hong Kong law during talks at the UN Security Council, where China wields a veto, making any formal session, let alone any action impossible. The Western allies raised Hong Kong in an informal, closed-door videoconference where China cannot block the agenda.
They said China was violating an international commitment as the 1984 handover agreement with Britain, in which Beijing promised to maintain the financial hub’s separate system until at least 2047, was registered with the United Nations.
China demanded that the United States and Britain “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs,” saying the law did not fall under the Security Council’s mandate.
“Any attempt to use Hong Kong to interfere in China’s internal matters is doomed to fail,” warned a statement from China’s UN mission. “There was no consensus, no formal discussion in the Security Council, and the US and the UK’s move came to nothing,” it said.