BEIJING (AP) — China reacted furiously Thursday to President Donald Trump’s signing of bills on Hong Kong human rights, summoning the U.S. ambassador to strongly protest and warning the move would undermine cooperation with Washington.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that was granted special autonomy when China took control in 1997, has been rocked by six months of sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations.
Trump’s approval of the bill was not unexpected. Neither was the reaction from Beijing, given China’s adamant rejections of any commentary on what it considers an internal issue. But the clash comes at a sensitive time and could upset already thorny trade negotiations.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told Ambassador Terry Branstad that the move constituted “serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Le called it a “nakedly hegemonic act.” He urged the U.S. not to implement the bills to prevent greater damage to U.S.-China relations, the ministry said.
In a statement about the meeting, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said, “the Chinese Communist Party must honor its promises to the Hong Kong people.”
The U.S. “believes that Hong Kong’s autonomy, its adherence to the rule of law, and its commitment to protecting civil liberties are key to preserving its special status under U.S. law,” it said.
Since the Hong Kong protests began in June, Beijing has responded to expressions of support for the demonstrators from the U.S. and other countries by accusing them of orchestrating the unrest to contain China’s development. The central government has blamed foreign “black hands” bent on destroying the city.
C.Y. Leung, a former chief executive of Hong Kong, said at a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong that he doubts the U.S. or supporters of the bills in Hong Kong “ever had the interest of Hong Kong in mind.”
He suggested Hong Kong was a “proxy” for China for the U.S. in hitting back against Beijing.
The U.S. laws, which passed both chambers of Congress almost unanimously, mandate sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses in Hong Kong; require an annual review of Hong Kong’s favorable trade status and prohibit the export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal munitions.
While China has repeatedly threatened unspecified “countermeasures,” it’s unclear exactly how it will respond. Speaking on Fox News, Trump called the protests a “complicating factor” in trade negotiations with Beijing.
At a daily briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded to a question about how Trump’s endorsement of the legislation might affect the trade talks by saying it would undermine “cooperation in important areas.”
Asked Thursday if the U.S. legislation would affect trade talks with Washington, a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman said he had no new information to share.
Recently both sides expressed confidence they were making headway on a preliminary agreement to avert a further escalation in a tariff war that has hammered manufacturers in both nations.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “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.”
Echoing Beijing’s complaints over foreign interference, C.Y. Leung, a former chief executive of Hong Kong, said Thursday that he doubted the U.S. or supporters of the bills in Hong Kong “ever had the interest of Hong Kong in mind.”
Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Hong Kong and Elaine Kurtenbach in Beijing contributed to this report.